OPM Leader Threatens Furloughs, RIFs if Congress Doesn’t Approve GSA Merger

Mark Van Scyoc/Shutterestock.com

The administration has given lawmakers until the end of June to greenlight the merger, or else roughly 150 OPM employees could lose their jobs this fall.

Acting Office of Personnel Management Director Margaret Weichert recently gave Congress an ultimatum: approve the Trump administration’s proposal to merge OPM with the General Services Administration, or she will furlough, and potentially lay off, 150 agency employees.

According to a briefing document obtained by Government Executive, unless lawmakers make a commitment by June 30 to greenlight the controversial plan to send most of OPM’s operations to GSA, OPM will begin to take the steps required to issue furloughs to career agency employees beginning Oct. 1. A reduction in force could come as early as 30 days after that. The details of the plan were first reported by The Washington Post.

The crux of the issue, according to OPM, is that once the agency’s security clearance processes are transferred to the Defense Department, it will face a nearly $70 million budget shortfall. After a number of savings efforts are undertaken, OPM still would face a $23.3 million gap in fiscal 2020, which equates to roughly 150 full-time employee positions in the agency’s Title 5 policy and oversight workforce.

However, the House Appropriations Committee has already advanced a spending bill for fiscal 2020 that increases spending for OPM by $43.4 million over current funding levels, nearly double what is needed to cover the budget shortfall. That legislation also blocks the administration from moving forward with its plan to merge OPM and GSA.

“The sole remaining mitigation efforts available to OPM force the agency to choose between complying with the Anti-Deficiency Act or carrying out the requirements of Title 5,” OPM wrote. “There is no option that would allow for both compliance of the Anti-Deficiency Act and all Title 5 requirements.”

In the briefing document, OPM dismissed efforts to increase spending at the agency.

“Additional funding, as included in the current House [Financial Services and General Government appropriations] proposal, is a temporary solution to a long-term fiscal, systemic and structural problem,” the agency wrote. “[Further], the additional funding included in the current House FSGG proposal does not equate to new money for the agency and will merely maintain the status quo of the agency—which there is broad agreement is not a desirable outcome.”

A House Appropriations Committee aide said Wednesday that the planned spending increase at OPM will be more than enough to cover the budget shortfall. And if lawmakers and the White House cannot reach an agreement before the end of the fiscal year, then an "anomaly" could be included in a continuing resolution to cover any shortfall beginning Oct. 1.

"We don't believe a furlough will be needed and see this as a threat with the purpose of intimidating Congress," the aide said. "The House FSGG bill includes $43 million to cover any shortfall, even though the agency estimates [itself] to be just $23 million short."

The Trump administration's formal submission of a legislative proposal for the merger has gotten a tepid response on Capitol Hill. Democrats have criticized the effort as lacking cost-benefit analyses and other documentation, and few Republicans have offered supportive words.

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s Subcommittee on Government Operations, blasted the news of furlough threats as an attempt by the Trump administration to bully lawmakers.

“This announcement from OPM flies in the face of testimony the administration gave to our subcommittee,” he said. “Director Weichert made it clear that this merger proposal was not ready for prime time. 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 and is nothing more than a political gambit to give the White House control of our longstanding merit-based civil service system.”

Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-Va., said the furlough threats are the latest in a series of actions taken at the expense of federal workers.

“This administration has demonstrated an unprecedented level of outright hostility to our federal workforce,” Wexton said. “These confrontational—and unwarranted—actions will inflict lasting and permanent damage to our government’s ability to function.”

In a statement, Office of Management and Budget Spokesman Jacob Wood said it is not the administration’s goal to lay off OPM employees.

“We continue to work with Congress to find a solution and sustainable path forward that avoids unacceptable impacts to the staff at OPM,” Wood said. “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.”

Eric Katz contributed to this report.

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