Senate appropriators look poised to take a leaf out of the House’s budget playbook in actively deciding not to provide funding for a planned merging of the Office of Personnel Management and General Services Administration.
Acting Office of Management and Budget Director Russ Vought sent a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee Oct. 23 to applaud budget decisions that the committee has made in line with Trump administration proposals and to critique provisions of the planned funding bills that contradict the Trump budget request.
“The bill fails to provide funding for GSA’s Working Capital Fund to support the transition of OPM functions to GSA. The administration continues to stress the need for structural and organizational change at OPM. The status quo is unsustainable, and inaction would maintain an organizational construct that is ill-equipped to meet the needs of today’s modern workforce,” Vought said of the planned merger.
“The administration is pursuing this needed structural reform to better align resources with mission and create long-term stability, sustainability and increased operational excellence.”
The decision to dismantle OPM and split its functions among GSA, the Executive Office of the President and the Department of Defense has proven controversial, as opponents have said that the move would weaken employee protections and politicize the civil service, with lawmakers on both sides of the isle expressing doubts about the administration’s rationale for the move.
OMB officials have argued that with the Department of Defense taking over the operation of background investigations, the agency will not have the funding necessary to maintain all of its IT systems, and OPM leadership floated the idea of furloughing employees to make up costs.
Though DoD has officially taken over responsibility of all federal background investigations, the agency will still rely on OPM IT systems while the Pentagon develops and tests its own system, meaning that funding for the OPM-run systems remains in place for the time being.
The White House letter, first reported by Federal News Network, also criticized the Senate’s failure to provide additional funding for the Technology Modernization Fund, which is likely to run out of money to back agency IT investments before the planned payback of earlier investments can refill the fund.
Though OMB reported that TMF-funded projects are “on track to deliver modernized technologies on an accelerated schedule,” some members of Congress have expressed hesitance to appropriate additional dollars until there is more concrete evidence of the program’s success.
The Senate did opt to provide funding for the planned move of two U.S. Department of Agriculture research agencies from Washington, D.C., to Kansas City, a controversial plan that critics and even some Trump officials have said will drain the agencies of skilled employees.
The Senate’s appropriations plans are still subject to change, and some lawmakers have indicated that Congress may even opt to push back full fiscal year 2020 funding for another few months with a continuing resolution in anticipation that impeachment proceedings would take time away from budget debates.
Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.