Battle to Break Up OPM Intensifies

The White House is now threatening employee furloughs if Congress blocks attempts to restructure OPM.

The latest move in the Trump administration’s push to restructure the Office of Personnel Management could involve laying off up to 150 federal employees at the agency.

This news was reported by the Washington Post. The news outlet obtained an internal briefing document which said that 150 OPM employees could be furloughed and eventually laid off permanently after 30 days if Congress blocks the Trump administration’s plans to break up the agency.

The Washington Post quoted acting OPM director Margaret Weichert who confirmed the possibility of the layoffs but called them a “last resort” that was trying to be avoided. The White House had previously said that it did not foresee the OPM restructuring involving any employee layoffs, but that was obviously before Congress started to fight the changes.

Jacob Wood, spokesperson for the Office of Management and Budget, said in a statement to FedSmith:

As the Administration has shared publicly on many occasions, the Congressionally mandated move of background investigations to DOD leaves OPM with a major funding shortfall. We continue to work with Congress to find a solution and sustainable path forward that avoids unacceptable impacts to the staff at OPM. Unfortunately, issues of funding and appropriations law leave OPM with few options. 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.

Wood also noted that any issuance of furlough notice, as required by Congress and in accordance with 5 U.S.C. 3502(d), requires a 60 day notice.

Changes Proposed for OPM

The Trump administration has cited significant and ongoing problems plaguing OPM as evidence of the need to break it up. Among them are IT security problems that led to two massive data breaches which left the personal data of over 20 million current and former federal employees vulnerable and an ongoing backlog of retirement applications of federal retirees that never seems to improve, even by the agency’s own standards.

Under the Trump administration’s proposal, OPM’s functions would be divided among three agencies: Department of Defense (DOD), General Services Administration (GSA) and Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

DoD would oversee background investigations, and the human resources functions performed by OPM would move to GSA. President Trump has already issued an executive order to move the background investigations over to DoD.

OPM’s policymaking functions would be moved to the Executive Office of the President (EOP). A government reorganization report described this change as follows:

Once complete, a transition into the EOP could create a more streamlined personnel management unit that is less expensive to operate. Such a unit would also support centralized coordination of all personnel policies for Federal employees, eliminating the confusing matrix of who does what today, as well as several key gaps in policy that are inhibiting the streamlining of mission support services. Centralizing human capital operational services at the General Services Administration (GSA) should provide economies of scale and significant cost-avoidance based on reductions in contract and IT duplication as well as increased data sharing and availability.

House Democrats are fighting the proposed changes. Some requested that funding be blocked that would go towards restructuring OPM. Also, a spending bill that recently advanced in the House would block any funding for reorganizing OPM. The bill also contains a 3.1% pay raise for current federal employees.

On the Senate side, Senator James Lankford (R-OK) questioned the benefit of the changes and said he wants to see a solid business case being made for restructuring OPM.

Lankford told the Washington Post, “I want to see how this plan is cheaper for the taxpayer and better for the federal workforce. It’s hard to get to a determination of how this makes things better.”

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of 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.