The Trump administration has dropped its plan to break up OPM by moving its operating divisions to the GSA and its policy functions to OMB, a plan that drew reactions from tepid support from Republicans on Capitol Hill to vehement opposition from congressional Democrats and federal employee unions.
Acting director Michael Rigas told employees in an email quoted by several news organizations that “we are no longer devoting time and energy to the merger and are focused on ensuring OPM can function as a standalone personnel agency for the federal government.”
Under the plan, part of a larger government-wide reorganization proposal the White House released in 2018, the GSA would have taken over the operation of federal employee retirement and insurance programs as well as the training and advisory services that OPM provides to agencies on a reimbursable basis. Policy functions would have shifted to a newly created office under OMB.
The latter aspect drew the most opposition out of fear of politicization from putting civil service policies directly under White House control, but questions also arose regarding having the GSA take over unfamiliar functions. Opposition grew when the administration last year formally proposed changes in law that would be needed to carry out the plan.
Rather than pass such legislation, Congress last year instead barred spending money on any further steps pending a study it ordered by the National Academy of Public Administration. That study is ongoing, with a final report not expected until next year.
One aspect of the proposal was carried out with no controversy: shifting responsibility for conducting most background investigations from the OPM to the Defense Department. That change, completed last fall, merely expanded on a previously approved shift to DoD of responsibility for its own background checks.
Some steps toward a GSA takeover of OPM functions also were taken, including a mid-2019 shift of control over the Federal Executive Institute in Charlottesville, Va. A recent report by the OPM inspector general said that was done without a sufficient cost analysis and that costs increased by some $300,000 just for security services, it said, adding operations of the FEI were shifted back to OPM earlier this year.
That report also criticized the two agencies for continuing to explore a shift of management of OPM’s headquarters building to the GSA even after Congress ordered the study, saying that early projections found that costs would rise and that it was a waste of money to even explore the concept before the study was completed.