A group of democratic members of the House are looking to head off the Trump administration’s planned removal of 150 employees at the Office of Personnel Management by crafting an amendment to 2020 appropriations legislation that would bar the agency from doing so.
Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., announced the planned amendment at a June 25 rally held by federal employee unions outside the OPM building in Washington, D.C., where attendees called the crisis at OPM a problem of acting Director Margaret Weichert’s own making.
Reports surfaced June 19 that OPM leadership would furlough and eventually fire 150 employees at the agency if Congress did not provide them with the funds to execute a planned merger outlined in the administration’s June 2018 government reorganization plan.
Opponents have called the plan to attempt to politicize the civil service, while OPM leadership has said that the merger is needed to keep the agency operational, and the fired employees would offset the costs that would result from OPM remaining as it is.
“What we ought to be doing is not trying to merge OPM with an agency with which it has no relationship in terms of objective, in terms of discipline, in terms of expertise that is needed. It makes no sense,” said Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., at the same rally. “The GSA discipline is, ‘How do we build buildings, how do we lease buildings and how do we make sure that we are managing our property correctly?’ Federal employees are not property.”
According to Connolly, OPM has failed to share details of why the plan is necessary or how it would work and Weichert seemed to not know the details of why the merger was necessary at a recent hearing before the House Oversight Committee.
“Even Republicans were saying, ‘You know, I don’t think this is ready,’” said Connolly. “So what was their response after admitting that they would not be ready by Oct. 1 for anything? They came back and announced if we, nonetheless, if we in Congress don’t agree to this co-called plan, 150 of you are going to be held hostage.”
Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., posited that the Trump administration was pushing forward with the plan to fire OPM employees in order to get out ahead of any appropriations legislation that would prevent the merger, but would not go into effect until the beginning of fiscal year 2020.
“This is all being rushed on the theory that if they proceed quickly, we will not be able to stop them,” said Holmes Norton.
“What they’re doing is racing us because they know 2020 can’t go into effect until October at the earliest.”
Weichert has stated previously that one of the primary reasons for placing OPM under GSA would be to bolster the HR agency’s faltering IT infrastructure, particularly in light of the National Background Investigation Bureau’s functions and funding being moved to the Department of Defense.
Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., said at the rally that if the rationale behind merging the two agencies was to improve OPM technology in the same way that GSA has done, then GSA should delegate an employee or two that was responsible for the technology improvement to OPM to execute the same thing.
“OPM respects employees’ right to peacefully assemble and looks forward to an ongoing dialogue with our stakeholders to create a sustainable future for OPM and its mission. We remain focused on providing the best service possible to America’s federal employees and plan to continue with those efforts,” an OPM spokesperson told Federal Times.
A Retirement Services employee who attended the rally told Federal Times that OPM has not given any indication of which employees would be among the 150 furloughed if the plan were to go through.
“It takes years to learn how to process retirement claims. The same thing with disabilities,” the employee said, explaining that employees who are forced to leave the agency will remove important expertise that the people who come behind them may not be able to pick back up.
“I took an oath as a federal employee, and I never thought that I would have to take a stand, a personal stand.”