President Donald Trump’s choice to lead the Office of Personnel Management reassured members of Congress at a May 7 hearing that she would make every effort to maintain open communication between herself, lawmakers and federal employees if confirmed to the position.
Dale Cabaniss, who was nominated March 4 to serve as director of OPM, has had experience leading both federal agencies and working for lawmakers.
“I believe my experience working with members of Congress, the executive branch, congressional leadership, congressional staff and other stakeholders on legislative and policy matters critical to the efficient and effective functioning of government have given me a clear understanding of the challenges facing federal employees and agencies,” said Cabaniss, speaking before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.
In particular, members of the committee were concerned about the lack of communication they had received from current administration officials concerning the proposed removal of OPM and placement of its responsibilities at other agencies.
The Government Managers Coalition cited the longstanding lack of Senate-confirmed leadership at the agency as the reason to quickly confirm the new nominee.
But Cabaniss said that her reading of the President’s Management Agenda and reorganization plan indicates that any OPM reorganization would require legislative involvement and therefore open communication with members of Congress.
“From sitting on the other side, I know that you’ve got to get all of the information you need to best understand it, particularly since the management agenda, as I understand it, envisions the need for legislation,” said Cabaniss.
“What I would want to do would be to work with Congress and all of the stakeholders to make sure that we can work on reaching a conclusion that we think will actually be effective.”
She added that, should she be confirmed, she would also be frank with members of the administration about which of their proposals concerning OPM would be unable to move forward without congressional support.
Cabaniss also pointed to her leadership time at the Federal Labor Relations Authority as an example of her ability to mange and modernize a federal workforce, as would be required of her as OPM director.
“When I arrived at the agency, I realized the agency was acting as if it were three separate agencies. There were duplicative functions in different offices, employees were not treated the same — or often fairly — across components, offices had difficulty justifying their budget requests and preferred budget and staffing levels based on historical levels, rather than current workload,” said Cabaniss.
But opponents of her nomination also point to Cabaniss’s tenure at FLRA as exactly why she is unqualified to lead OPM.
“When she headed the Federal Labor Relations Authority, an independent measure of morale at the agency indicated that employees’ job satisfaction declined, resulting in a loss of more than 40 percent of its career workforce and a significant drop-off in productivity. As a measure of her effectiveness, 55 percent of the FLRA’s decisions issued during her tenure were overturned on appeal,” American Federation of Government Employees Legislative Director Alethea Predeoux wrote to the committee leadership May 7.
“The job should go to someone with a record of effective employee management, one who understands the importance of an apolitical civil service and employee morale and respects the mission of the agency. It is essential that she or he be someone with a solid record of federal personnel management.”
Cabaniss justified the dissatisfaction as a reaction to external factors — such as the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Defense rethinking their policies concerning FLRA — and to a natural resistance to change.
“These changes were not necessarily welcome, particularly by those who preferred their component’s need take priority over another part of the agency,” said Cabaniss, promising that as OPM director she would “communicate more to help them manage that anxiety and valid feelings about that change.”