White House in continued push to break up central HR office

By on 10/12/2019
Both Congress chambers declined to include funds to implement the merger in their respective appropriations bills.

A US watchdog has reported that the Trump administration’s planned merger between the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and General Services Administration (GSA) has not been abandoned, despite Congress blocking the legislation that would enable the merger.

In a report published by the OPM inspector general’s office last week, it emerged that the OPM “continues to explore ways to merge functions with GSA”. The merger plans were first set out in summer 2018, and quickly attracted widespread criticism – particularly over proposals to move policymaking functions into the White House, condemned by unions as a threat to merit-based appointments.

The report lists the proposed merger as the first of a number of “top management challenges” for the year ahead. Among its primary concerns are employees’ confusion about the proposed merger, and the admission that staff at functions potentially being moved from one agency to the other are not guaranteed to keep their jobs.  

The merger was first proposed in the document Delivering Government Solutions in the 21st Century: Reform Plan and Reorganization Recommendations, published by President Trump’s office in June 2018. It put forth a comprehensive plan that would reorganise OPM and transfer the majority of OPM’s functions and resources – including human resources, IT and the healthcare and insurance divisions – to the GSA. Congress was largely critical of the plan in hearings, and both chambers declined to include funds to implement the plan in their respective appropriations bills.

The inspector general’s report notes that Trump’s legislative proposal for the merger “does not include a reorganisation plan, shifting the burden to the agency to fully study, plan, and execute reorganisation activities”. While the legislative proposal has not been introduced in either chamber of Congress, the report says that OPM is exploring the implications of the potential merger, which would include the transfer of the Performance Accountability Council, Performance Management Office and Chief Human Capital Officers Council to GSA. The OPM has not conducted a business or cost-benefit analysis to justify these transfers.  

The report states that the inspector general “remains concerned” that many aspects of the proposed reorganisation have not been fully documented. It says OPM “lacks a developed analysis of alternative approaches to the merger, a thorough cost-benefit analysis, a comprehensive timeline, and documentation that delineates which legal or regulatory authorities OPM will use to administratively transfer agency functions”.

The specific details of the full OPM/GSA merger “continue to evolve”, according to the report, which says that every version of the proposed reorganisation would “fundamentally alter how agency functions and duties are performed”. The inspector general’s office has taken an active role in the oversight of the proposed merger, it adds, “to confirm that the process is efficient, effective, and free of fraud, waste and abuse”.

Aware of the inherent risks

OPM “appears to be aware” of the inherent risks in the merger and has established decisional frameworks to monitor the risks, according to the inspector general. For example, OPM is using the ‘tollgate’ process, a ‘Six Sigma’ based process used for mergers and acquisitions in the private sector, to steer the proposed reorganisation plan.

The agency has also attempted to engage employees, including hosting town hall meetings. However, the report notes that “staff surveys have shown confusion and uncertainty related to the proposed merger”.

Among the challenges are how staff would be transferred from one agency to the other. For example, the report says that if the Chief Human Capital Officers Council were to be moved to GSA, staff being transferred “would be appointed to new positions non-competitively once GSA had cleared the positions through the Interagency Career Transition Plan”. This process would not guarantee current OPM staff reemployment at GSA, the report says, and the OPM has not conducted an assessment of the costs associated with this workforce restructuring.  

“OPM leadership must continue to educate the staff on the reorganisation in order to have an engaged and productive workforce,” the report says.

“Until OPM undertakes the necessary planning to address these issues, the agency will encounter numerous challenges implementing the proposed reorganisation.” 

In a statement published by Government Executive, OPM spokesman Anthony Marucci acknowledged the critiques laid out in the report, and said the agency will work to keep employees abreast of developments.

“OPM understands [the inspector general’s] concern and unequivocally agrees about the importance of keeping our workforce informed about the agency’s mission and future,” Marucci said.

He said that OPM “continues to work with all of our stakeholders to help ensure we are doing our due diligence regarding any potential changes to the workforce”, and that the agency maintains its commitment “to engage our people as developments happen in the decision-making process”.

The inspector general’s report concludes that in order to ensure a successful outcome, if the merger is approved OPM should conduct and fully document a thorough analysis of the options and the cost-benefit of these options, and work towards acquiring buy-in by engaging with relevant stakeholders. It adds that “a review of published best practices for government reorganisation may help with this effort”.  

Other management challenges outlined in the report concern strategic human capital management; federal health insurance initiatives; data security governance; information technology infrastructure improvement; and procurement process oversight.

Uncertainty over 2020 federal employee pay raise

In other news concerning US government employees, Government Executive reported that Congress has not reached consensus on a 2020 pay rise for federal civilian employees.

The House-passed version of the Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill includes an average 3.1% pay raise for federal civilians: a 2.6% across-the-board raise, and an average 0.5% increase in locality pay. Locality pay is an increase in certain federal employees’ salaries to compensate for the different costs of living across the US and abroad. However, according to Government Executive, the Senate did not include any language on compensation in its iteration of the measure, effectively endorsing Trump’s alternative pay plan to provide a 2.6% across-the-board raise but no increase in locality pay.

If Congress does not act to override Trump’s plan, the president will still need to issue an executive order finalising the 2.6% across-the-board raise by the end of the year.

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

2 Comments

  1. Michelle Cooper

    16/12/2019 at

    OPM and GSA do not need to merge. Each agency should be conducting self evaluations and funding reductions. Excessive budgetary increases for the last three years has been counterproductive to reducing the overall Federal Government budget. In addition, there has been no current discussions as to how the U.S. plans to untie the hands of China off the neck of the United States “Economical Chicken”. Shame on us to fall down financially before China and never provide “one cluck” about the matter.
    In addition these agencies and their functions are uniquely different and have no business consolidating to remove key functions and control key functions.
    Collective Bargaining is critical to maintaining a balance between employees rights and the restrictions to abuse by the Power. Collective Bargaining over the years has evolved to a better entity. However, freedom of choice on whether employees want to join a union and be charged must not be allowed.
    There is absolutely no reason why the two can not continue to be separate and fine tune their weakness i.e. sending employees to Las Vegas and completing illegal actions (GSA) and OPM increase security to block hackers from stealing 100s of thousands of employees’ PII and SPII. There’s more, but this is enough to open the eyes of the blind and for the energy of the weak to be stirred up.

    The best for the US can always be accomplished. It’s in our DNA that our forefathers left behind… Why don’t you see it ??
    Reach out and touch an agency’s hand and make it a better place, if you can.

  2. Michelle Cooper

    16/12/2019 at

    I made a Typo below in the last sentence. The correction is below on previous comment.

    Collective Bargaining is critical to maintaining a balance between employees rights and the restrictions to abuse by the Power.
    Collective Bargaining over the years has evolved to a better entity. However, freedom of choice on whether employees want to join a union and be charged must not be allowed. (Typo ; error)

    Must be allowed is what I intended to say.

    The previous paragraph should have closed with….. However, freedom of choice on whether employees want to join a union or not and be charged must be allowed…..Not everyone wants to be a part of a union and some appreciate a union and celebrate it’s usefulness. Just Do the Right thing is the best policy.

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