Fedweek

The Trump administration will advance its agenda on federal employment policies by using powers within its discretion in addition to asking Congress to change civil service laws, OPM director Jeff Pon has said.

In a conference call with reporters, Pon said that the administration can achieve many of its goals by using executive orders, government-wide directives from OPM and agency-specific directives, even if proposals to change civil service law—a more difficult task—ultimately fail on Capitol Hill.

He repeated an argument that the administration has made numerous times, that Civil Service Reform Act is itself in need of reform, 40 years after its passage. In an earlier message to federal employees, Pon had said that more than a “piecemeal” effort was needed; in the conference call he similarly said that changes since enactment of that law have amounted to “nibbling around the edges” and that the administration wants “wholesale” and “bold” changes.

He listed several planned initiatives that likely could be largely carried out without legislation, including: consolidating the many special hiring and other authorities that have been put in place as work-arounds to the basic policies under the Reform Act; continuing the shift from paper to digital employment records; and changes to pay and other policies for hard-to-fill occupations such as the IT and STEM fields. He also said he wants to draw more attention to accomplishments by federal employees.

The administration already has proposed a range of cuts to retirement and other benefits that would require the consent of Congress. While such proposals could be approved through the budget process, separate legislation likely would be needed for its other priorities, such as more strongly emphasizing performance in pay and limiting employee rights to appeal disciplinary actions. Those ideas have not yet been detailed as proposed legislation.

He said that both administrative actions and legislative proposals would be coming over the next six to seven months. Given the short work year Congress has scheduled due to the fall elections, anything proposed toward the end of that period would leave little time for it to be considered on Capitol Hill this year.