Fedweek

The bill signed Feb. 15 to avert another shutdown includes new restrictions on reorganizing agency operations.

In addition to providing for an average 1.9 percent federal pay raise retroactive to January 6, the final budget measure signed into law February 15 continues several long-running federal workplace policies while imposing several new restrictions.

Among the long-running provisions are: a ban on starting new “Circular A-76” studies to compare costs of certain federal operations against contractor bids, a process that in the past resulted in the contracting-out of many thousands of federal jobs; a ban on FEHB plans covering abortions and a requirement that they must cover prescription contraceptives, with some exceptions in both cases; a ban on “lifestyle” training that does not directly relate to performance of a federal job; and oversight by OMB and agency IGs of conference spending that exceeds certain thresholds.

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In addition, there are new restrictions aimed at asserting Congress’s authority over reorganizing agency operations, a reaction to a wide-scale agency reorganization plan the administration released last summer. Many of those plans would require approval of Congress while others could be handled administratively—although the administration generally has not specified which plans fall into which category.

One aspect of that plan would turn OPM into a policy office of the White House while farming out its operating branches to other agencies. The administration has indicated it could move many of OPM’s human resources advisory services to GSA without a change in law, for example, but the bill requires OPM to cite the legal authority it would use to do so, as well as the budget implications. Such reporting requirements commonly are first steps leading to delays and potentially bans enacted through future spending bills.

The measure also places similar restrictions on planned reorganizations of portions of agencies including DHS, Agriculture, Interior, EPA, Army Corps of Engineers and all agencies covered by the Commerce-Justice appropriations bill. In several cases it pointedly reminds agencies of the restrictions against reprogramming money for consolidating or relocating functions without explicit permission from Congress.

Administration officials have said there will be more detail on the reorganization plans in the White House’s budget proposal for fiscal 2020, which now is expected to be released March 12.