House Lawmakers Accuse GSA of Breaching Ban on Implementing OPM Merger

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Oversight panel leaders say newly uncovered emails confirm that the General Services Administration’s pending revocation of the Office of Personnel Management’s building operation authority is part of the plan to abolish the HR agency.

Democrats on the House Oversight and Reform Committee said that the Trump administration would violate provisions of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act blocking the planned merger of the Office of Personnel Management and the General Services Administration if it moves forward with plans to rescind OPM’s authority to operate two federal buildings in the Washington, D.C., area.

Last July, GSA Administrator Emily Murphy issued two decisions rescinding OPM’s authority and interagency agreement to operate and maintain the Theodore Roosevelt Federal Building—the personnel agency's headquarters—and OPM's Federal Executive Institute in Charlottesville, Va., effective Oct. 1, 2020.

If implemented, the decision would have the effect of increasing what OPM owes to GSA in rent by $2 million in fiscal 2021, according to the White House’s budget proposal for next year. In a letter to Murphy on Wednesday, House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations Chairman Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., argued it would amount to a violation of the Defense authorization law.

“The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020—which was signed into law by President Donald Trump on Dec. 20, 2020—included a provision stating that ‘no person may assign, transfer, transition, merge, or consolidate any function, responsibility, authority, service, system, or program that is assigned in law’ to OPM, GSA, the Office of Management and Budget, or the Executive Office of the President until specific actions are completed to assess the challenges and opportunities at OPM,” Connolly wrote. “Any action to rescind OPM’s authority to operate its own buildings is a clear violation of this statutory provision.”

Connolly pointed to newly uncovered emails between then-GSA Program Management Office Director Mary Davie and OPM Associate Director for HR Solutions Joseph Kennedy as proof that the decision to rescind OPM’s building operations authority was at least in part motivated by the planned OPM-GSA merger. Davie is now an associate administrator at NASA.

“As a matter of philosophy, we note that the Acting Director’s ‘Case for Change’ recognizes the benefits of ‘synergies around people, facilities and contracts,’ ” Davie wrote. “The Case for Change acknowledges that OPM’s core mission is not facility management—it is GSA’s.”

The phrase “case for change” was a common refrain for former acting OPM Director Margaret Weichert when she was advocating for sending most of OPM’s functions to GSA and placing the HR agency’s policy shop within the Executive Office of the President, and was the title of a document justifying the proposal.

Connolly said that GSA must act to prevent implementation of these rescissions of OPM’s authority or it will be in violation of the NDAA’s merger ban, if it is not already.

“It appears you withheld critical information from Congress and continued to take actions prohibited by statute, demonstrating a flagrant disregard for congressional authority and the law,” he wrote. “We demand that you cease the planned rescission immediately. If there are any other actions, including procurements or memoranda of understanding, currently implemented or planned for implementation that are purportedly justified by or approved of because of the proposed merger, we demand those plans and operations cease immediately.”

Connolly also demanded Murphy submit to a transcribed interview via video conference by April 15.

OPM and GSA did not respond to requests for comment. 

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