Issue Briefs

Following is the section of a House report on a spending bill for OPM—and other agencies—that addresses special concerns about federal personnel policies.

OPM Re-Organization.—The Committee is concerned with the Administration’s proposal to eliminate OPM as a standalone agency and transfer its functions to GSA and OMB. To ensure the Committee remains appropriately informed of the Administration’s deliberations in this area, OPM is required to submit quarterly reports to the Committee and the OPM Inspector General that include detailed updates on any proposed reorganization efforts, including but not limited to: timelines of any planned moves, impact on OPM funding, changes in staff levels in each functional unit, gained efficiencies, impact on employee unions and space allocation, and improved service deliverables. The OPM Inspector General is directed to review and comment upon each such report within 60 days of receipt from OPM and submit their analysis to the Committee.

In addition, the Committee reminds OPM of its obligation to engage in prior consultation with and notify the Committee of any reorganizations, restructurings, new programs, or elimination of programs as described in title VI of this Act.

Backlog of Pension Benefits.—The Committee is concerned with the growing backlog of processing and disbursement of pension benefits and the undue financial burden these delays may cause for retiring Federal employees. Tens of thousands of new retirees wait months to receive their complete annuities, with some waiting more than a year, and in the meantime they may be constrained by reduced interim pensions. The Committee expects OPM to continue to prioritize retirement processing and disability processing and to move to a fully automated electronic filing system. Within 90 days of enactment of this Act, OPM is directed to issue a report to the Committee outlining steps to address the processing backlog and to ensure retiring employees throughout the Federal Government are receiving their hard-earned benefits in a timely manner.

The Committee believes that the backlog and delays in retirement processing are unacceptable and directs OPM to continue to provide the Committee with monthly reports on its progress in addressing the backlog in claims.

Recruitment.—The Committee is concerned with the length of time it often takes the Federal Government to hire qualified employees and directs OPM to continue to find ways to reduce barriers to Federal employment and reduce delays in the hiring process.

Rigid rules along with long delays in the hiring and interview process discourage top candidates from applying for or accepting Federal positions. Specifically, the Committee encourages OPM to seek input from hiring managers on the type of challenges they face and improvements that could be made to make the Federal hiring process more efficient and effective. Within 90 days of enactment of this Act, OPM is required to report to the Committee on a plan to reduce barriers to Federal employment, reduce delays in the hiring process, and improve the overall Federal recruitment and hiring process.

As part of OPM’s mission to recruit and hire the most talented and diverse Federal workforce, the Committee encourages Federal agencies to increase recruitment efforts within the United States and its territories and at Hispanic Serving Institutions and Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Federal Government Hiring Process and USAJOBS.—The Committee continues to be concerned that capable candidates with the option to work in either the private or public sector may be dissuaded from applying for or accepting Federal positions due to the length and cumbersome nature of the Federal hiring process. To focus on one important aspect of this persistent challenge, the Committee directs OPM, within 90 days of enactment of this Act, to provide a report to the Committee on the specific feedback OPM collects from applicants and agencies regarding the USAJOBS website; any barriers to collecting applicant and agency feedback; the steps OPM is taking to improve the user experience on USAJOBS as a result of applicant and agency feedback; and the measures OPM will use to assess user satisfaction with future changes to USAJOBS and the overall effectiveness of the website as a recruitment and hiring tool. In addition, the Committee directs GAO to report on ways to simplify, streamline, and otherwise enhance the user experience on USAJOBS.

Hiring Guidelines.—The Committee encourages OPM to review its policies and guidelines regarding hiring and firing of individuals who use marijuana in states where that individual’s private use of marijuana is not prohibited under the law of the State. These policies should reflect updated changes to the law on marijuana usage and clearly state the impact of marijuana usage on Federal employment.

Federal Telework Programs.—The Telework Enhancement Act mandated that OPM provide an annual report to Congress addressing the telework programs of each Executive Branch agency (5 U.S.C. 6506). As noted in the 2018 Status of Telework in the Federal Government Report, telework data collection continues to be a challenge. As such, the Committee urges OPM to direct Federal agencies to continue to track telework successes, compile best practices, and expand telework programs. The Committee recognizes that Federal agencies are very active in using telework to improve government performance, especially in the areas of employee attitudes, emergency preparedness, recruitment, and retention. The Committee supports cost savings and productivity improvements from well-managed telework programs in the Federal workplace.

Constituent Services.—The Committee is aware of the ongoing backlog in processing constituent service cases and requests that OPM conduct a monthly review of this backlog. Further, OPM should develop a strategy for reducing the caseload and handling cases more expeditiously, including adjusting the number of caseworkers needed to reduce the backlog and meet service demands.

Locality Pay.—The Committee is interested in a comparison of salary and retirement benefits of Federal employees and retirees living in the states of Alaska and Hawaii and the territories of Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa, with those in the contiguous 48 states and the District of Columbia. Within 120 days of enactment of this Act, OPM is directed to issue a report analyzing the calculation of locality pay (5 U.S.C 5304) in salary and benefit adjustments for employees living in non-foreign areas (5 CFR 591.205). The report must also assess how the calculations compare with those of Federal employees living in the rest of the United States to determine if there are any inequities in such calculations. In addition, the report should include information, where possible, on the differential in pay received by retirees in these locations who did not receive consideration of full locality pay amounts in their high-3 earnings on which annuities are calculated and of survivor annuitants of such Federal employees. The Committee further directs OPM to include policy recommendations for Congress to consider in the report.

Within 30 days of enactment of this Act, OPM is directed to provide a briefing to the Committee on the expected date on which the Cost of Living Adjustment for locality pay for Alaska and Hawaii will be completely phased out.

The Committee is aware of instances in which a Federal agency or department directs one or more employees to work at a temporary work site in a General Schedule locality pay area which has a higher rate than that of the locality pay area in which the employee’s official duty station is located. The Committee encourages OPM to consider promulgating guidelines to Federal agencies or departments directing them to compensate employees at the higher rate of the two locality zones in instances when employees are directed on a regular or reoccurring basis to work at a temporary work site with a higher locality pay than the employee’s duty station.

Contractor Backpay.—The Committee recognizes the hardships experienced by contract workers and their families during the Federal government shutdown. While Federal employees received backpay at the end of the shutdown, Federal contract workers did not. Federal contract workers perform jobs that are critical to the daily operations of the Federal government, such as food service, security, and custodial work. The Committee encourages Federal agencies to examine the fairness and equity of Federal government shutdown policies and guidelines and their impact on contract employees.

Enhancing the Utility of the Fedscope Database.—The Committee notes that Fedscope, a publicly-accessible database maintained by OPM, is a valuable source of information about Federal employees and agencies. Fedscope provides national-level and state-level data about the number of Federal employees, the agencies that employ them, and selected characteristics of those employees. To enhance its utility to Congress and the public, the Committee urges OPM to provide information about the number of Federal employees employed in each county in the United States, or the functional equivalent in the case of U.S. States and territories that do not use the county system. Within 120 days of enactment of this Act, OPM is directed to provide a report to the Committee on the feasibility and expected timeline of publishing this information.

Federal Financial Systems.—The Committee supports OPM’s efforts to modernize and replace the Federal Financial Systems (FFS), which is the core centralized accounting system used to manage OPM’s trust funds. This system supports the accounting and financial management activities associated with one trillion dollars in combined assists for the Retirement, Health Benefits, and Life Insurance programs for Federal employees. No later than April 1, 2020, OPM is directed to submit a report to the Committee that provides an update on the implementation of the FFS modernization by phase, including planned and achieved milestones.

The report must also include explanations for unmet milestones, a plan to complete the project, funding received to date, and unobligated balances. Additionally, the report should include cost estimates for future activities, as well as projected dates for system completion. Furthermore, the Committee directs GAO to examine OPM’s effort to modernize and replace FFS. GAO’s review should also examine the extent to which OPM’s Federal Financial Systems project has adopted leading information technology management practices in requirements management, cost and schedule estimation, and cybersecurity.