Issue Briefs

House Appropriations Committee chair Nita Lowey, D-NY

Following is language in a report from the House Appropriations Committee stating concerns about federal personnel issues ranging from hiring to the processing of retirement applications.


OPM Re-Organization.—Section 1112 of the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act prohibits the transfer of OPM functions to GSA or the Executive Office of the President until at least 180 days after a report on the findings and recommendations of an independent report is submitted to the appropriate Congressional Committees and any required legislation is enacted.

ADVERTISEMENT


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.

Federal Viewpoint Survey.—The Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey administered by OPM is the primary means of measuring employee satisfaction and engagement in Federal agencies. It is important for agency leaders to receive timely survey results so they may take appropriate action to enhance agency performance. Currently, the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey is administered to employees each spring; however, since agencies do not receive their survey data from OPM until the fall, leaders are not able to respond or react quickly to employee feedback. This can contribute to further dissatisfaction amongst employees who feel that little is being done by leaders to respond to the results of the survey. The Committee directs OPM to report to the Committee within 90 days results to agency leaders within four to six weeks of the survey closing date.

In addition, the Committee is concerned that the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey is not readily accessible on mobile devices for the thousands of Federal employees who do not work on desktop computers in an office environment. The Committee directs OPM to report to the Committee within 90 days of enactment of this Act on the feasibility of making the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey available in a mobile-friendly format for Federal employees to complete on their mobile devices.

USA Learning Knowledge Portal Services Program.—The USA Learning Knowledge Portal Services Program supports online education and training via a cloud-based database of tools to help Federal agencies understand the importance of sharing knowledge of agency missions, goals, and values across all organizational lines.

Since there has been a rapid and significant increase in program spending, OPM is directed to provide a report within 90 days of enactment of this Act to the Committee on the program’s expenditures by fiscal year for the past five years, performance metrics, and procurement procedures to ensure contracts for this program have been awarded fairly and openly.

Backlog of Pension Benefits and Retirement Services.—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 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 the progress made during fiscal year 2020 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.

The Committee is concerned with the underrepresentation of minority- and women-owned investment banking and asset management firms that provide financial advisory services to all participants in the Federal Employees Retirement System. To reflect the diversity of the nation, the Committee encourages OPM to promote to all participants in the Federal Employees Retirement System the utilization to the greatest extent possible of both womenand minority-owned investment banking and asset management firms, defined as having women or minority ownership of at least 51 percent.

Federal Government Hiring Process.—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.

Direct Hire Authority.—The Committee is aware of the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) request to OPM to provide direct hire authority to BOP facilities. To ensure the safety of staff and inmates, the Committee encourages OPM to expedite and grant direct hire authority for BOP facilities in which ten percent or more of the total available positions are vacant, prioritizing facilities with the largest number of vacancies. In addition, the Committee encourages OPM to review the GAO open recommendation included in OPM Needs to Improve Management and Oversight of Hiring Authorities (GAO– 16–521) to determine whether opportunities exist to refine, consolidate, eliminate, or expand agency-specific authorities to other agencies.

Cybersecurity Recruitment in the Federal Government.—The Committee recognizes the importance of cybersecurity education and recruitment of cybersecurity students into the Federal workforce.

The Committee directs OPM to use all its available tools to increase the recruitment of cybersecurity students and that all hiring agencies using the Pathways Internship Program make their programs available to students studying information sciences and technology and related degrees. The Committee strongly encourages OPM to update the definition of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education to include cybersecurity education. OPM is directed to report to the Committee within 120 days of enactment of this Act on its efforts to increase recruitment of cybersecurity students into the Federal workforce using its various recruitment tools including the Pathways Internship Program.

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 changes to the law on marijuana usage and clearly state the impact of marijuana usage on Federal employment.

Federal Employee Health Benefit Plans (FEHBP).—The Committee recognizes the importance of medical foods, as defined in the Orphan Drug Act (21 U.S.C. 360ee(b)(3)), which often serve as firstline therapies to treat a number of conditions. The Committee is concerned about the lack of coverage of medical foods in FEHBP insurance plans. The Committee encourages OPM to encourage FEHBP plans to explore options for including coverage of medical foods within their plans.

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). The Committee directs OPM to include a new section in their annual report focusing on Federal agency telework preparedness during COVID–19, challenges, and recommendations to better prepare Federal agencies for government- or agency-wide telework situations. Additionally, the Committee urges OPM to direct Federal agencies to continue to track telework successes, compile best practices, and expand telework programs. 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.

Contractor Backpay.—The Committee recognizes the hardships experienced by contract workers and their families during Federal government office closures. Many 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 closure policies and guidelines and their impact on contract employees.

Federal Wage System.—The Committee is concerned that some General Schedule (GS) localities include several Federal Wage System areas, which creates pay increase disparities for hourly workers within a GS locality, and encourages OPM to explore limiting the number of local wage areas defined within a General Schedule Pay Locality to a single wage area.

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. Additionally, the Committee urges OPM to provide information about the number of Federal employees employed in each Congressional district. 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.

IT Infrastructure.—The Committee remains concerned over OPM’s overall progress in improving its IT security and infrastructure, and its continuing efforts to implement the recommendations of the GAO and OPM Inspector General reports to improve information security. The Committee directs OPM to undertake a study and produce a report on how blockchain technology can help improve its IT security and infrastructure. The study should include, but is not limited to, an examination of the feasibility of employing distributed ledger technologies, such as blockchain, to do the following: tamper-seal and verify actual users and authenticate data, without the need for third-party authentication; employ Digital Security Certificates that never expire; ensure an unbroken chain-of-custody of all Federal employee personal information; provide a clear audit trail of any transactions that include a Federal employee’s personal information and/or documents; secure digital signatures; and eventually replace password-based security verification with proof of identity via uniquely identifiable methods. OPM is directed to provide this report to the Committee within 180 days of enactment of this Act.

Teleworking Employees Say They’re More Productive, Poll Finds

OPM to Finalize Parental Leave, Official Time Policies

FERS Retirement Bundle: 2020 FERS Guide & TSP Handbook