Outcry over ‘petty’ plan to fire OPM employees

The struggle between members of Congress and the Trump administration over whether to keep or dismantle the federal government’s personnel office hit another point of contention June 19, after reports surfaced that the administration plans to furlough or fire personnel if its objectives are not approved by Congress.

The plan, first reported by the Washington Post, would furlough 150 Office of Personnel Management employees on Oct. 1 if budget legislation does not include an avenue for the White House to take apart OPM and place its operations under the General Services Administration and Executive Office of the President.

After 30 days, those employees could be laid off.

As of March 2018, OPM employed over 5,500 personnel, according to federal employment data.

Removing 150 employees would reduce the OPM workforce by approximately 2.7 percent.

“Reports that the Trump administration has threatened to lay off civilian federal employees at the Office of Personnel Management if Congress doesn’t eliminate the agency are outrageous. Threatening to fire these hardworking Americans because the administration isn’t getting its way is shameful,” said Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., in a statement.

“The Trump administration has failed to make the case or provide the authority under which this reorganization can be accomplished. Threatening to lay off hundreds of hardworking professionals because the administration’s plan has been rejected in a bipartisan fashion is foolish, petty and irresponsible. The Trump administration’s temper tantrum will have real consequences for all Americans and is yet another example of the administration holding federal employees hostage.”

The Trump administration first shared plans to dismantle OPM as part of its June 2018 government reorganization plan.

According to administration officials, the move is necessary to ensure the financial solvency of personnel management operations while enabling the modernization of personnel-related IT infrastructure.

“As the administration has shared publicly on many occasions, the congressionally mandated move of background investigations to [the Department of Defense] leaves OPM with a major funding shortfall. We continue to work with Congress to find a solution and sustainable path forward that avoids unacceptable impacts to the staff at OPM,” said Office of Management and Budget Spokesperson Jacob Wood in a statement to Federal Times.

“Unfortunately, issues of funding and appropriations law leave OPM with few options. It is our sincere hope that Congress helps us find a way to address the funding gap created by their decision to move a major funding source away from OPM.”

But members of Congress from both parties have said that the Trump administration has not provided sufficient evidence for why breaking up OPM would offer the best financial solution, and fiscal year 2020 appropriations legislation currently under consideration in the House would prevent the executive branch from using any appropriated funds to transfer OPM work over to another agency.

“The administration’s proposal to reorganize OPM has been met with bipartisan and broad skepticism and opposition from members of Congress, stakeholders, the Government Accountability Office and inspectors general. In response, the administration appears to be taking vengeance by furloughing the hard-working employees of OPM, further weakening its ability to carry out its mission,” said National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association National President Ken Thomas in a statement.

“Considering that the president has threatened shutdowns and loss of work for federal employees in the past, this new proposal — while alarming, irrational and completely unnecessary — comes as no surprise. We call on Congress to meet this threat with a strong and resilient response.”

The Trump administration has already drawn ire from federal employee groups through proposals to cut federal retirement benefits, freeze employee pay and restructure the collective bargaining practices at federal agencies.

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