House Blocks OPM-GSA Merger

The House of Representatives passed the FY 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which included an amendment that would block the administration’s proposed reorganization of the Office of Personnel Management. This action comes just days after lawmakers wrote to Acting OPM Director Margaret Weichert to criticize “premature” discussions of furloughs.

The amendment was introduced by Representative Gerry Connolly (D-VA). It prevents the Trump administration from moving forward with a proposed plan to merge OPM with the General Services Administration (GSA). Under the proposed plan, OPM functions would be split between GSA and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

Members of Congress and stakeholders have been critical of the plan and its execution.

“Maintaining OPM’s role in [preserving merit systems principles] is of absolute and paramount importance, and changes to that can only occur through Congress, not the administration via fiat,” Senior Executives Association President Bill Valdez noted in a letter to congressional oversight committees. The May 2019 letter stated, “The administration to date has not provided clarity about what, if any, independence OPM would maintain should it be folded under GSA. The OPM director is independent from the president; the GSA administrator is not.”

OPM leaders have framed the reorganization as necessary to avoid the $70 million funding gap created from moving the National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB) from OPM to the Department of Defense.

In a briefing document given to Congress by OPM, the agency proposes a hiring freeze on non-mission critical positions, as well as a proposal to leave current vacant positions open.

Furthermore, Weichert notes that without congressional action to make up for the funding gap, OPM will be forced to begin a 90-day process to prepare furlough notices to its employees.

Some lawmakers were highly critical of this proposal because appropriations have not yet been worked out for FY 2020.

In a letter to Weichert, Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Patty Murray (D-WA) explain, “Recent reporting indicates that OPM may be reassessing, but is still considering, furloughs of federal employees. These actions are premature and unnecessary. Congress has yet to finalize a FY2020 appropriations bill, and the only such publicly available legislation (H.R. 3351) more than makes up for this budget gap.”

Lawmakers also included a block to the OPM reorganization in H.R. 3351.

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