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OPM submits plan to overhaul Combined Federal Campaign

Jan. 11, 2013 - 11:38AM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments
John Berry, director of the Office of Personnel Management, is seen in a file photo. The Combined Federal Campaign would undergo a far-reaching transformation under a plan in the works from the OPM.
John Berry, director of the Office of Personnel Management, is seen in a file photo. The Combined Federal Campaign would undergo a far-reaching transformation under a plan in the works from the OPM. (File)

The Combined Federal Campaign, its future threatened by lackluster participation and declining pledges, would undergo a far-reaching transformation under a plan in the works from the Office of Personnel Management.

The plan, outlined in a 53-page draft package of rules obtained by Federal Times, would abolish the existing system of 184 local and state-based CFCs in favor of a smaller number of regional organizations more closely controlled by OPM. The 184 local federal coordinating committees that oversee the individual campaigns would disappear in favor of an unspecified number of regional committees. Similarly, the 184 principal combined fund organizations (PCFOs) that provide fundraising and management services to each campaign would be replaced by one or more central campaign administrators, according to the package.

While OPM did not offer specific examples of how this approach would work in practice, it could in theory mean that campaigns now based in Montgomery, Ala., and Chattanooga, Tenn., would in the future be run out of Atlanta. Local United Way organizations, which frequently serve as the PCFOs under contract, could lose much of that business.

“We believe that a centralized approach will benefit from economies of scale and ultimately reduce overhead costs,” OPM Director John Berry wrote in an introduction to the draft package.

Some of the plan’s specific proposals follow recommendations made last year by the CFC-50 Commission, an advisory panel that Berry assembled to examine the campaign’s operations 50 years after its creation. Overall, Berry said, OPM believes the proposed changes will “improve the CFC, based on its experience administering the program and its considered judgment.”

Instead of donors indirectly paying for most campaign overhead costs with money taken from their pledges, each of the thousands of CFC charities would have to pay an unspecified upfront nonrefundable application fee to participate in the CFC each year. They currently pay no application fee.

Other recommendations:

• The traditional 3½-month fundraising campaign would begin in October, instead of Sept. 1, to allow employees on leave during the December holiday season to pledge when they get back, Berry wrote.

• New federal employees could make pledges a month after they join the government. Currently, new hires must wait until the next campaign season to contribute.

• Create a permanent program to allow federal employees to respond quickly to relief efforts for individual disasters.

The proposed overhaul is now under review by the Office of Management and Budget, which must sign off before the package can be published in the Federal Register for public comment. OPM has not officially made the plan public; Federal Times obtained a copy independently. Jennifer Dorsey, an OPM spokeswoman, referred questions to OMB, which declined to comment or say when its review might be completed.

OMB received the draft rules package late last month, according to an agency website. Its review could take several months and lead to changes in what OPM is proposing. After that, OPM could also revise the package in response to public feedback.

The proposed overhaul comes as the campaign — which bills itself as the world’s largest workplace charity drive and garnered almost $273 million in pledges in its 2011 drive — is in deepening distress. Nationwide, pledges dipped slightly in both the 2010 and 2011 campaigns and could be off much more sharply for the season that ended last month. Despite OPM’s efforts to press smaller, more inefficient campaigns to merge, some individual CFCs have in recent years carried overhead rates that approach 50 percent as a proportion of pledges. Although the amount of the average pledge has steadily increased over the last two decades, the participation rate among the federal workforce dropped to about 24 percent for the 2011 campaign, according to the CFC-50 Commission’s report.

OPM appears to have followed the commission’s recommendations in a number of areas, such as the proposals to shift responsibility for campaign overhead from donors to charities, centralize fundraising and create a permanent disaster relief program. But OPM went considerably further in seeking to eliminate the local federal coordinating committees that oversee individual campaigns. The commission proposed leaving the local committee structure intact but urged that members get mandatory training in CFC policies and procedures.

OPM also did not adopt the commission’s recommendation to allow retired federal employees to participate.

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