President Donald Trump’s administration is threatening to furlough or lay off up to 150 employees at the Office of Personnel Management if Congress does not agree to eliminate the federal agency or find a new way to pay for the positions.
Members of Congress who oppose the administration’s plan to kill off OPM and move its functions elsewhere called the plan an effort to intimidate lawmakers and contend it is an attack on federal workers’ rights.
“After realizing they were not going to prevail on the merits of the proposal, the Trump Administration is taking 150 federal employees hostage unless we consent to a plan that has no rationale,” said Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, D-Va.
Connolly, who chairs a government operations subcommittee that has jurisdiction over the agency, called the break-up plan “nothing more than a political gambit to give the White House control of our longstanding merit-based civil service system.”
Trump administration officials said furloughs and possibly layoffs may be necessary because the personnel agency is losing revenue after the transfer of one of its core functions: conducting background checks on prospective federal employees.
The fight over the personnel agencies is one of many budget battles that loom in the run-up to the November 2020 election.
When Trump unveiled his 2020 budget in March, he called for deep cuts in an array of domestic programs while also proposing billions for his border wall and higher military spending. But with the House controlled by Democrats, many of his proposals are unlikely to become law.
Trump administration officials said OPM, which oversees more than 2 million members of the federal civilian workforce, is outmoded and inefficient. The White House has called for transferring its duties – which range from hiring and firing standards to managing benefits programs – to other parts of the government, particularly the General Services Administration.
“We continue to work with Congress to find a solution and sustainable path forward that avoids unacceptable impacts to the staff at OPM,” said Jacob Wood, a spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget. “Unfortunately, issues of funding and appropriations law leave OPM with few options.”
Noting that Congress itself voted to remove background checks from the office’s duties, Wood said that “it is our sincere hope that Congress helps us find a way to address the funding gap created by their decision to move a major funding source away from OPM.”
Trump administration officials said the overall goal is to eliminate OPM, part of its proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2020, is a first step in its effort to re-organize and streamline government. But the plan appears to face an uphill battle, given Democratic control of the House.
Margaret Weichert, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, said at a congressional hearing this year that OPM has created “a national personnel system that does not meet modern workforce needs” any longer.
“Failure to invest in and re-align HR organization, technology and operations has generated backlogs, service quality issues, cyber risks and problems hiring and retaining top talent,” she said.
The Office of Personnel Management received bad publicity in 2015 with a data breach that exposed the private records of millions of public employees. Officials attributed the breach to Chinese hacking; China denied it.