Lawmakers said they will try to amend an appropriations bill to block the acting OPM director from following through on her threat to lay off 150 agency employees.
Union officials, Office of Personnel Management employees and Democratic lawmakers held a rally Tuesday across the street from the agency’s headquarters to protest the Trump administration’s plan to merge the federal HR agency with the General Services Administration.
Roughly 50 people vowed to fight the effort to effectively dismantle OPM and send its regulatory authority to an unconfirmed presidential appointment within the Office of Management and Budget, chanting phrases like, “Hell no, we won’t go,” and “Save OPM.”
Officials at the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Federation of Federal Employees, both of which represent OPM workers, organized the rally following the news last week that acting OPM Director Margaret Weichert has threatened to furlough, and eventually lay off, around 150 agency employees if Congress does not commit to greenlighting the OPM-GSA merger by the end of June.
Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., said at the rally that he would introduce an amendment Tuesday to the fiscal 2020 Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill to block the administration from executing furloughs or reductions in force at OPM. The bill already contains provisions blocking funds from being used to implement the merger.
“They have no plan, and they’ve communicated with nobody,” Connolly said. “Here’s what we assert: They don’t have the statutory authority to do this, and we’ll challenge them in court if necessary.”
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., said the furlough threat is an effort to strong-arm lawmakers, or failing that, to push forward with the plan before Congress can act to block it.
“This layoff threat is based on the theory that if they proceed quickly enough, we will not be able to stop them,” Norton said. “But even [Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla.] has said that the business case has not been made [to merge the agencies].”
John Cherry, president of AFGE Local 32, which represents OPM employees, said that since the announcement of the plan to merge OPM and GSA, morale has been in free fall.
“The atmosphere at OPM is very low,” he said. “People are crying when they come into work, they don’t want to come to work. They feel depreciated by the new management of OPM.”
Cherry said Weichert told employees after her testimony in Congress that everyone “needs to get on board” with the merger. And Marlo Bryant, chief steward of the AFGE local, said Weichert has been evasive in conversations with workers about what the merger would mean for employees.
“She has frequently said that everyone will continue to work if they want to, that there would be no RIFs and no layoffs,” Bryant said. “But when asked questions from employees directly, like why GSA and what the merger would mean, she wouldn’t answer.”
Bryant also took issue with a common comment by Weichert, that whenever she discusses her plans for OPM, nobody offers a valid counter proposal to fix the agency.
“Why haven't employees been able to see the data?” she asked. “She sits in meetings and says, if anybody has any better ideas, let me know. How the hell can we let you know, if you’re not giving us any of the information?”
The House is expected to vote later this week on the Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill.