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House opposition could sink OPM reorg

Chase Gunter

Margaret Weichert, acting director of the Office of Personnel Management, went to Capitol Hill to try to sell an administration plan to merge OPM into the General Services Administration.

Members of Congress weren't buying.

"I think the idea is a disaster. I think I would vigorously oppose it," said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) at a May 21 press conference.

From the outset of a May 21 hearing, of the Government Operations subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Chairman Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) strongly objected to the plan, calling the hearing itself a "reckoning," with much at stake for the federal workforce.

Weichert stated her case that OPM is in "crisis," facing financial shortfalls that are being accelerated by a plan to move the National Background Investigation Bureau to the Department of Defense.

"Ultimately the goal of this transition is to stabilize and sustain OPM's mission, which is already at risk," she said.

Representatives from the Government Accountability Office and OPM's own inspector general's office weren't convinced reorganization was the solution.

Triana McNeil, GAO's acting director of strategic issues, testified that their initial examinations of the administration's justifications for dissolving OPM "are not encouraging." She said that the agency hasn't performed necessary cost-benefit analysis or developed implementation plans.

Norbert Vint, the acting IG at OPM, said the administration "did not meaningfully examine alternatives" to reforming OPM, and such decisions need to be rooted in "methodical" data-based and financial planning.

Lawmakers also criticized OMB's lack of communication with Congress to date since rolling out the proposal 10 months ago.

Subcommittee ranking member Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said GAO's testimony was "very concerning," and that GAO would be receiving a congressional request to examine this particular proposal. He also asked Weichert to provide the committee with detailed documents pertaining to the proposal "so we can make informed decisions."

Democrats and federal unions are also shift of human resources policy function to a new White House office.

J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, called that aspect of the plan "ill-conceived and potentially dangerous."

Linda Springer, who served as director of OPM in the George W. Bush administration and advised Office and Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney on management issues early in the Trump administration, added that the plan displayed a "lack of accountability" for not having a Senate-confirmed official in charge of human resources policy.

After the hearing, Connolly told reporters the plan would face "formidable" opposition in the House and that the rationale for the reorganization appeared to be developed post-facto, but that he would be willing to address the individual issues, including the IT woes of OPM.

The plan also faces tough sledding in the Senate. At a recent confirmation hearing for Dale Cabaniss, the administration's pick to lead OPM, lawmakers complained about the lack of information being shared to support the case for the reorganization.

In addition to the House's reservations, the Senate has also withheld approval for the reorganization, seriously dimming the facets of the proposal requiring congressional approval.
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