The Trump administration is working behind the scenes to move forward with its plan to merge the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) with the General Services Administration (GSA) and transfer key policy setting functions to the White House, a move that would politicize the federal workforce and reintroduce the spoils system in which hiring, firing, and compensation decisions are based on political connections, not merits.
Last year the administration proposed merging OPM into GSA, the agency that leases real estate and buys supplies for federal agencies. Congress explicitly prohibited them from moving forward.
To circumvent the law, the administration is outsourcing OPM to other agencies – most notably GSA, by having OPM enter into interagency agreements with those agencies to provide the services, such as financial management, IT, facilities management, and even budgeting.
AFGE is working to get language in the appropriations process that would prevent the administration from moving forward.
White House conceals DOJ’s determination that a directed merger is unlawful
The Trump administration appears to stop at nothing in its efforts to abolish OPM. The latest evidence was reported in a Daily Beast article, which details how the White House concealed the Justice Department’s determination that their plan to dismantle OPM was unlawful. That determination came from Assistant Attorney General Steve Engel who leads the Office of Legal Counsel, which provides legal advice to the President and executive branch agencies.
The Daily Beast reports:
“The notes cite Engel arguing that the administration “could not lawfully direct” the transfer of OPM functions to the General Services Administration, an agency that OPM insiders say is a “puppet” of the White House Office of Management and Budget. “Engel’s presentation of OLC’s view was rather emphatic,” the notes state. The Office of Legal Counsel’s opinions are often treated as binding inside the executive branch and known for a strong pro-White House tilt.
When OPM’s deputy chief of staff testified before Congress in June 2019—two months after the conference call where the legal “opinion” was discussed—he made no mention of it, saying instead: “The legal analysis is ongoing and at this time we don't have a final analysis to share.”
AFGE President Everett Kelley said this administration is intent on abolishing the career civil service – even if it means skirting the law to do so.
“The career civil servants who protect our nation and serve the American people are a bulwark against the cronies who staff the political levels of the administration and dispense favors to President Trump’s supporters,” he said. “What better way to make sure that federal employees who perform their work on the basis of facts and the law give way to the politics of the administration and its friends than to destroy the Office of Personnel Management, the agency that is supposed to ensure that a nonpartisan civil service continues regardless of which party controls the White House.”
Two Senate-confirmed OPM directors have resigned abruptly after only a few months on the job in apparent opposition, effectively leaving management of the agency to the White House Office of Management and Budget and the staff of the White House political personnel appointments office.
“The Trump administration shows its contempt for federal employees every day, from the purging of long-serving career employees at the VA, EPA, Justice and State departments, and nearly every other agency, to the president’s May 2018 executive orders that attempt to destroy unions’ ability to hold him accountable,” Kelley added.
AFGE is asking Congress to conduct robust oversight of the administration’s efforts to abolish OPM in defiance of the 2019 law.