Watchdogs

Potential personnel watchdog plans to put hiring under the microscope

The Inspector General’s Office for the Office of Personnel Management should keep a closer eye on agency hiring authorities and practices, Craig Leen, nominee for OPM IG, told members of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs committee June 2.

“I do think that the IG’s office at OPM should be doing more evaluations of how the federal civil service works to make sure that we’re getting economies and efficiencies. We’ve only been doing about one a year at the OPM IG and I think that, considering in the federal civil service you’re talking about 3 million, approximately, workers in the United States, it seems to me that we should be focusing more on that,” Leen told members of the committee.

A part of that focus would include ensuring that the system by which federal employees are hired, rewarded, promoted and disciplined is based on “merit and merit alone.”

OPM and the Trump administration have come under fire from members of Congress and federal employee organizations for their approach to employee merit systems, with such critics claiming that the initiatives simply seek to make it easier to fire employees and open the door for discrimination and retaliation.

Leen also promised to examine the myriad hiring authorities open to federal human resources offices, which some HR leaders have said are too numerous and complex for their offices to use properly.

“I want to look at Schedule A, veterans preference, hiring of disabled veterans, and that’s just three of them,” Leen said. “It should be made more efficient, and we should be using them more correctly; it shouldn’t be ad hoc, depending on the agency and the proclivities of a particular agency. There should be general policies.”

Leen also emphasized a problem that has been a priority for the IG community at large: bringing attention to open recommendations issued by their offices:

“The OPM inspector general’s office has over 300 open recommendations going back many years. This is a common issue for IGs. So many open recommendations erode public trust in government. I would make closing them a focus from day one.”

According to data posted on oversight.gov, among the eight OIGs reporting to the site, 4,785 recommendations are still unresolved by the agencies that are supposed to address them, with nearly six percent of those recommendations five years old or more. The OPM OIG does not yet contribute their open recommendations to that database.

Leen also promised that he would keep the OIG independent from the rest of the agency, while overseeing and evaluating major initiatives, such as the federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic and any potential merger between OPM and the General Services Administration. That merger, proposed by the Trump administration in its 2018 reorganization plan, has been put on hold by lawmakers until an independent organization conducts an evaluation and issues findings on its merits.

“I do believe … that the IG’s office has a significant role in overseeing if there were to be a merger, overseeing that merger to protect the core equities of OPM, including the human resource function, [Federal Employee Health Benefits], retirement, charitable giving,” said Leen “There are so many different things that OPM does, and you don’t want that to be lost within the much larger structure within GSA.”

Leen currently serves as the director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs at the Department of Labor and, if confirmed, would be only the second Senate-confirmed head of the OPM OIG in the last 30 years.

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