No merger, but a long to-do list for OPM from the House

By Mark Van Scyoc Royalty-free stock photo ID: 285175268 

House appropriators want the Office of Personnel Management to improve on its core duties including retirement processing without support from a planned merger with the General Services Administration.

Lawmakers are expected to approve the Financial Services and General Government appropriation bill on June 11, sending the measure to the full House of Representatives. The bill includes a measure preventing a merger of OPM and GSA as planned by the Trump administration and preventing GSA from absorbing OPM programs and duties via outsourcing agreements using money from the FY 2020 appropriation.

The House Appropriations Committee's legislative report calls on OPM to do a better job on its own, with the $309 million in funding allowed by the bill. Lawmakers want OPM to speed up retirement processing, eliminate delays to federal hiring and improve the user experience at USAJOBS, the only front door for applicants to federal jobs.

The report also includes a section on the proposed reorganization that suggests lawmakers are concerned about staying in the loop about reorganization plans outside the scope of FY 2020 funding. Lawmakers want OPM to report to Congress and its own office of inspector general every quarter with detailed proposals under discussion, timelines for any move, proposed changes to staffing levels and more.

Acting OPM Director Margaret Weichert said in May that the merger was required to meet a coming budget shortfall created in part by the loss of a fee related to moving the National Background Investigations Bureau out of OPM and to the Department of Defense. But, she argued that the merger wasn't about closing the budget gap as much as treating federal HR -- from hiring to payroll to benefits and retirement processing -- like a shared service.

"We cannot buy our way out. We have to structurally change and look at an entirely new architecture for the future," she said at a press conference.

However, at a subsequent hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, lawmakers took Weichert to task for not including a detailed analysis in OPM's legislative proposal.

In the Appropriations Committee report, OPM is directed to move to a fully automated system for retirement and disability processing and to, within 90 days of the funding bill being enacted, spell out how agency officials plan to dig out of the retirement processing backlog. Additionally, lawmakers want OPM to deliver a plan to streamline and eliminate hurdles in the federal hiring process. The committee is also pushing for details on plans to modernize the Federal Financial Systems that support OPM's trust funds and for improvements to USAJOBS based on user feedback. Lawmakers tapped the Government Accountability Office for a report on how the site can be streamlined.

The committee also urged all federal agencies "to examine the fairness and equity of federal government shutdown policies and guidelines and their impact on contract employees." In March, a group of 48 representatives and 39 senators sought back pay provisions for contractors affected by the government shutdown in supplemental 2019 or fiscal year 2020 appropriations bills.

Lawmakers are also looking for more detail on federal telework activity and for county-level data on federal employment to be added to OPM's FedScope database.

About the Author

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.


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