Fedweek

OPM breakup has primarily met opposition on grounds that it would risk politicization of the workforce.

In addition to opposing a move in Congress to provide a 3.1 average federal employee raise in January, the administration has objected to language in general government appropriations bill (HR-3351) to block the administration’s plan to break up OPM and to prevent agencies from unilaterally changing terms of negotiated contracts.

The administration has said it “strongly opposes” language to block its proposed transfer of most of OPM’s operations to the GSA while shifting its policy role to a new OMB office; the other part of the reorganization is already under way, with the shift of the background investigations function to DoD.

Said an administration policy statement on the bill, “Reform is needed to better align resources with mission and create long-term stability, sustainability, and increased operational excellence. In addition, the administration is also concerned with language in this section prohibiting interagency agreements between GSA and OPM. Interagency agreements are routinely entered into by agencies for cross-agency support and are mission-critical for OPM to continue to operate. As worded, the provision would create increased risk of IT system failures, including those with sensitive information concerning current and former federal employees and their families.”

OPM recently said that unless the breakup plan is approved it will have to abolish about 150 of its 5,500 positions due to the loss of revenue from the loss of income from the fees agencies pay for background checks.

Federal employee organizations and Democratic leaders on civil service issues in Congress oppose the OPM breakup primarily on grounds that it would risk politicization of the workforce, with policy decisions directly under the White House. They further have decried the layoff threat as using employees’ jobs for leverage in the policy dispute.

The White House policy statement further said it “strongly opposes” new language barring agencies from changing contract terms without having either negotiated new terms or having them imposed by an arbitrator.

It said that language “prevents agencies from addressing language in their CBAs [collective bargaining agreements] that violate government-wide requirements and limits the authority of the Federal Service Impasses Panel to resolve bargaining impasses. By stipulating that a CBA shall remain in full force and effect until a new bargaining agreement is reached through mutual consent, this provision effectively traps agencies and forces them to remain party to agreements that do not advance the effectiveness or efficiency of the agency’s mission.”

That was added in response to complaints by federal employee unions that several large agencies have unilaterally imposed new policies in areas such as telework, working schedules, and official time and free use of agency space and equipment for employees with union duties.