House approves measure to block OPM furloughs

US Congress House side Shutterstock photo ID: 156615524 By mdgn editorial use only 

The House of Representatives passed a funding bill June 26 that includes an amendment blocking a threatened furlough of 150 employees at the Office of Personnel Management.

The amendment from Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) passed on a voice vote. The overall Financial Services and General Government Appropriation passed by a vote of 224-196.

The overall bill contains a 3.1% pay raise for federal civilian employees and several provisions that prevent the Trump administration from executing a plan to fold much of OPM's payroll, benefits administration and other back-office functions into the General Services Administration while establishing a small group at the Office of Management and Budget to develop federal human resources policy.

The appropriations bill funds OPM at $339 million -- an increase of $43.2 million over the previous funding level.

The White House is pushing ahead with its reorganization plans, despite a lack of enthusiasm from Congress, because of a coming $70 million funding gap incurred because of the shift of the National Background Investigations Bureau to the Department of Defense. The full force of that budget crunch won't be felt immediately. According to budget documents the Trump administration shared with Congress and first published in the Washington Post, DOD will need to pay for $42 million in OPM services, leaving a $23 million funding gap.

The White House dangled the possibility of laying off 150 OPM employees to close this gap in that same budget document. If the administration takes that route, it must provide 60 days advance notice – which would have to come in the first week of July to be effective for the start of fiscal year 2020.

"The Trump Administration is threatening Congress with a furlough of 150 employees at the Office of Personnel Management unless we, the Congress, acquiesce to the administration's so-called plan to abolish OPM altogether and give the Trump White House control of governmentwide federal employee policies," Connolly said in floor debate on his amendment.

"This threat was made in spite of proposed appropriation levels above what would be needed to fill any anticipated budget gap," Connolly noted in his remarks on the House floor.

Connolly also argued that the move to centralize HR policy inside OMB would lead to an unwanted politicization of the federal workforce.

"We have watched as this administration has attempted to curtail the independence of the civil service itself and reverse more than a century of protected reforms implemented by professionals in the civil service to insulate them from political influence," Connolly said.

Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.), the ranking member of the Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee, argued that the funding levels provided for OPM in the funding package that ended the partial government shutdown in March have backed the agency into a corner.

"But we should give them credit. They're looking to for an alternative and that is to reorganize, to change, to modernize, to update," Graves said.

Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), speaking in support of the amendment, said that he perceived "a hostility, frankly, toward the federal workforce in this administration." He added: "Whether you think government ought to be small or large, you ought to agree on the fact that whatever size it is, we ought to have an effective human resources agency."

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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