Watchdogs, Lawmakers Slam Trump Administration for Dangerous OPM Plan

Categories: OPM, The Insider

The Trump administration’s dangerous plan to politicize the civil service and dismantle a central personnel agency received no support May 21 as lawmakers, watchdogs, and our union mounted stiff resistance against the plan.

At a congressional hearing on the administration’s latest effort to undermine our country’s civil service and merit systems, Margaret Weichert, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and acting Office of Personnel Management (OPM) director, tried to sell the administration’s plan to blow up OPM and split its functions among three different agencies.

But lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), OPM’s own inspector general, and even a former OPM director under George W. Bush were not buying it. Our union’s President J. David Cox Sr. testified against the administration’s reckless plan and urged lawmakers to reject it.

“There is no clear and convincing reason for dismantling this key federal agency,” said House Subcommittee on Government Operations Chairman Gerry Connolly (D-Va.). He said the proposal is just “a reckless endgame in search of a rationale.”

OPM Acting Inspector General Norbert Vint made a similar observation and went one step further by predicting its failure.

“Based on the information we have received to date, we are concerned the agency is making the decision to align with a predetermined desired outcome without conducting adequate evidence-based analysis,” he testified. “We have not received documentation demonstrating that OPM leadership meaningfully examined other alternatives besides the transfer of functions to GSA to address OPM’s challenges. In fact, we do not know if the transfer of functions to GSA would be cost-efficient and effective at all.”

‘Double talk’

Under OPM’s plan, most of OPM’s functions including IT systems would move to the General Services Administration. OPM’s massive security clearance system is in the process of being shifted to the Defense Department. Personnel management and workforce policy would move to OMB. OPM’s leadership would become a position within OMB and would be appointed directly by the president with no Senate confirmation -- creating a dangerous situation that could politicize the federal workforce.

Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) told Weichert that she failed to recognize the important role of OPM, calling her justification to break it up “quite facile and a kind of double talk.”

“It just sounds like you’re proceeding on a wing and prayer here,” he said.

Even the subcommittee’s top Republican Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) was skeptical of the reorganization, especially the proposal to move background investigations from OPM to DoD. He pointed out that the function was originally performed by DoD, but it was so poorly done that it had to be transferred to OPM. He questioned the wisdom of moving it back.

AFGE President J. David Cox Sr. urged lawmakers not to fund the reckless, dangerous plan.

“Fixing the IT system doesn’t require breaking up the OPM. Fixing the security clearance system doesn’t require breaking up the OPM,” Cox testified.

Linda Springer, former OPM director who also led the Trump presidential transition team for the management component of OMB, testified against dismantling OPM.

“Will this Congress stand with the leaders of the past who established the Merit System Principles and codified the independent agency to oversee compliance to them? Or will its legacy be one of introducing the risk of a return to inappropriate political influence on federal personnel practices and policy, and tearing apart the independent organization that has stood in the vanguard against these practices?”

GAO Acting Director on Strategic Issues Triana McNeil said OMB, OPM, and GSA did not provide details of the plan or legal analysis of the existing authorities being used to implement the reorganization.

“As of May 17, 2019, OMB, OPM, and GSA has not fully established outcome-oriented goals and performance measures for or assessed the costs and benefits of the administration’s proposal to reorganize OPM,” she testified.

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