Raskin: OPM-GSA merger 'likely illegal'

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

At a testy House Oversight hearing June 27, lawmakers from both parties heaped criticism on the Office of Personnel Management for what they're describing as a lack of responsiveness to their requests for documents in support of a plan to merge OPM into the General Services Administration.

The hearing of the Government Operations subcommittee included testimony from OPM on the planned merger as well as testimony from GSA and FBI representatives on unrelated issues regarding changes to a longstanding plan to relocate the FBI's downtown headquarters and documents from GSA regarding decisions on President Donald Trump's lease of a government-owned building for a luxury hotel.

But it was OPM Deputy Chief of Staff Stephen Billy who drew the most open scorn from members of both parties, particularly with regard to OPM's redaction of a legal analysis to support the administration's plan to fold most of OPM into GSA.

"Mr. Billy, you're not doing your job. There is a stall," said Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.). "You seem quite ill prepared for answers to questions you should anticipate would come from this committee," Hice added.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) told Billy he was "embarrassed" to see headlines warning about potential layoffs or furloughs at OPM just after his own visit to the agency for a briefing on technology issues.

The news of furloughs came after OPM shared with Congress documents describing a $23 million shortfall at the agency for FY2020, which could lead to 150 furloughs. Initially, the administration figured on a $70 million budget gap arising from the move of OPM's National Background Investigation Bureau to the Department of Defense. However, DOD is going to have to pay OPM more than $42 million in services, which helped closed the gap, as did other cost shifting.

An appropriations bill that passed the House this week included multiple provisions designed to thwart the planned merger, including one from Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), the chairman of the Government Operations subcommittee, to block any reduction in force arising from a funding shortfall at OPM. That bill also closes the funding gap in the short term with a $39 million increase.

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said that "my first take on it, having looked at some of the legal authorities, is that the proposal is likely illegal" and wondered why "OPM made a very significant decision to dismantle itself or to dissolve itself without first obtaining any formal opinion as to the legality of this decision."

Billy stated that "the legal analysis of what statutory authorities exist today to enact parts of the transaction are still ongoing."

The plan to fold the back-office functions of OPM into GSA while creating a new White House office to house federal workforce policymaking has drawn strong ire from Democrats on Capitol Hill and notably very little enthusiasm from Republicans.

"From our point of view, this half-baked proposal is going to be dead on arrival here on Capitol Hill," Connolly said. He also noted that he has not received documents from OPM on its legal analysis, cost-benefit analysis and timeline for the planned merger.

"These aren't intrusive requests," Connolly said.

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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