OPM-GSA merger plan detailed in legislative proposal
- By Adam Mazmanian
- May 17, 2019
The White House is proposing legislation for a dramatic overhaul of human resources inside the government and wants $50 million to execute the plan.
The administration is looking to move the Office of Personnel Management's functions and resources to a service inside the General Service Administration, alongside real estate management and acquisition.
A new policy shop -- Office of Federal Workforce Policy -- would be set up inside the White House with its director reporting to the deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget.
Acting OPM chief and OMB Deputy Director for Management Margaret Weichert previewed the plan at a press conference earlier this week. The immediate impetus for the plan, Weichert said, comes from a $70 million shortfall resulting from the move of the National Background Investigative Bureau to the Department of Defense, but the merger of the two departments has been long contemplated in the Trump administration's reorganization plans.
The legislative proposal includes moving all the rulemaking authority formerly vested in OPM to the OMB director and envisions that power being delegated to the GSA administrator.
The management authority once belonging to OPM would also devolve to the GSA administrator under the proposal. GSA's new Personnel Service would be led by a presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed official. The current OPM deputy administrator position would cease to be a Senate-confirmed post.
Human resources strategy will reside in the new Office of Federal Workforce Policy. At her briefing, Weichert said that the move would align personnel policy across government by bringing together OPM's authority over Title 5 employees and other federal employee categories. Weichert said the new office would consist of three new positions. The director of that new office would not be Senate confirmed.
The planned shift of human resources policymaking to the White House has alarmed federal unions.
David Cox, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said the proposal "reveals the administration's intention to politicize the civil service and at the same time shows a complete disregard for the actual substance of the work performed by OPM to support the federal workforce."
Cox warned that the new head of the Office of Federal Workforce Policy would "answer only to the White House and the top political appointees at OMB," representing "a serious risk to the political independence of the civil service."
Cox urged lawmakers to reject the plan, which requires congressional approval. The proposal will be discussed at a hearing of the Government Operations subcommittee of the House Oversight Committee on May 21. The title of that hearing, "Trump's War on a Merit Based Civil Service," is emblematic of the House Democrats' skepticism about the merger proposal. In April, Democrats on the Oversight Committee urged appropriators not to consider a $50 million request to fund the merger absent a detailed justification with regard to budgetary impact, employment levels and policy outcomes.
GSA-OPM align IT operations
In the event that Congress does not supply the necessary authority to formally fold OPM into GSA, there are administrative options that would involve OPM tapping GSA services in technology, acquisition and more.
The two agencies took a step in that direction with the May 17 announcement of a plan to partner on technology infrastructure. OPM agreed to use GSA's Technology Transformation Services Centers of Excellence operation to help "stabilize" its legacy IT systems and assist with tech workforce planning, overall IT planning and governance and specifically to help manage the technology systems that run OPM's retirement services. The personnel agency's retirement claims backlog – currently at just under 18,000 -- has been cited as an example of why a new management structure for human resources is required.
"By partnering with GSA … we are taking steps toward long-overdue transformation in OPM's IT infrastructure and operations," Weichert said in a statement.
Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.
Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.
Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.