OPM Says It ‘Inadvertently’ Posted Sample Letters Suggesting Feds Barter with Landlords

OPM is walking back portions of sample letters it posted last week with tips for federal employees on dealing with creditors after a public outcry.

The Office of Personnel Management has retracted some of the information it had posted in sample letters that it provided to furloughed federal employees with suggestions on dealing with creditors and landlords during the partial government shutdown.

The Washington Post reported the change and said it received a statement from an agency spokesperson. OPM told the Washington Post in the statement:

OPM – itself acting with limited resources during the furlough period – inadvertently posted a legacy document from the 2013 shutdown.  Although most federal employees have yet to miss a paycheck, OPM recognizes that many employees are concerned about the financial implications of a continued lapse.  As such, OPM sought to provide a set of templates and information that could be used proactively by employees to address potential financial challenges, in the event that Congress does not resolve the lapse in appropriations before the end of the next pay cycle.  Since discovering the out-of-date documents, OPM updated the website to reflect current information, and regrets any unintended concern caused by legacy documentation.

Original Letters Receive Harsh Criticism

The change to the sample letters that OPM referenced in the statement appears to have been made in response to harsh criticism the agency received in response.

The document that was originally published contained three sample letters: one for creditors, one for mortgage companies, and one for landlords.

The one for the landlords had a sentence that read, “I will keep in touch with you to keep you informed about
my income status and I would like to discuss with you the possibility of trading my services to perform maintenance (e.g. painting, carpentry work) in exchange for partial rent payments.”

OPM also said in the original document that it cannot offer federal employees legal advice and that they should consult with their personal attorneys as needed for such advice.

The furor that ensued on social media over these two statements was palpable. This is OPM’s original tweet announcing the sample letters:

One person wrote on Twitter, “Speaking as one of those ‘Feds,’ it’s nice of you to offer meaningless letters and suggest – while we have no pay coming in – that we incur legal expenses as well while we descend into debt. Thanks so much.”

Another tweet read, “‘Personal attorney?’ OPM is clueless about the personnel they supposedly manage.”

Another replied to OPM, “This is one of the dumbest and most insulting tweets I’ve ever read. No landlord is going to let you mow a lawn in exchange for rent. No creditor cares. They want $$. And who in heck has an atty?”

There were many, many other tweets like this in response to OPM’s original tweet, some of which cannot be repeated here, but you get the idea.

The agency was likely responding to this public outcry by walking back the sample letters document.

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.