Fedweek

Plan to move personnel policy decisions to OMB, an arm of the White House, has raised concerns about politicization of the civil service.

The defense spending bill ready for final voting in Congress (S-1790) contains language to bar the Trump administration from taking further steps to carry out its planned breakup of OPM pending an outside review.

The provision reflects language in the original House version of the bill, although not the Senate version, opposing the planned further steps of sending to the GSA OPM’s operation of the federal retirement and insurance programs and its personnel consulting services for other agencies, while turning the remainder of OPM into a policy office of the OMB (the already-completed transfer of background investigation functions from OPM to DoD would not be affected).

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The objections to moving operating divisions to the GSA mainly relate to the practical issues of assigning personnel functions to an agency primarily involved with procurement and real estate matters; the planned move of policy decisions to OMB, an arm of the White House, has raised concerns about politicization of the civil service.

Under the final version of the bill, the administration would be barred from “transferring, transitioning, merging, or consolidating any functions, responsibilities, information technology systems, staff, resources, or records” to either GSA or OMB pending a study of the sort that GAO, OPM’s own inspector general and many members of Congress have said would be needed before the planned further steps should even be considered.

The National Academy of Public Administration would be tasked with producing a study on “the full panoply of OPM missions and functions; the challenges associated with the Office’s execution of same; and options and recommended courses of action for addressing those challenges,” according to the congressional report on the bill.

The timing is not defined but such a wide-ranging study likely would consume many months. Afterward, the OPM would have six months to present “its views on the report, any recommendations for change in the structure, functions, responsibilities, and authorities of OPM, a business case analysis setting forth the operational efficiencies and cost savings associated with any such change, and a proposal for legislative or administrative actions required to effect the change proposed.” No reorganization could occur for at least 180 days after that and further would be “subject to the enactment of any legislation required.”

A recent report from the IG at OPM however raised concerns about the agency proceeding with some parts of its breakup plan despite getting explicit approval from Congress.

The inspector general’s office at OPM recently questioned the White House’s plan to break up the agency, saying it “remains concerned that many aspects of the proposed reorganization have not been fully documented.”