Proposed OPM-GSA merger includes IT consolidation

As part of a proposed shift of most of OPM's function to GSA, officials plan a sharp consolidation of HR systems and the digitization of paper-based health and retirement records.

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At a Senate hearing on a key piece of the Trump administration's government reorganization, officials testified that systems consolidation and digitization of paper records are a big part of the plan.

The plan looks to merge some of the core functions currently performed at the Office of Personnel Management — retirement services, federal employees' healthcare and insurance, plus its human resources solutions — into the General Services Administration, which would be renamed the "Government Services Administration."

What's left of OPM would then be shifted to the Executive Office of the President.

GSA Administrator Emily Murphy said merging OPM's functions into GSA would lead to IT modernization and improved service delivery "on both sides of the equation." Murphy also added she hopes to reduce the number of time and attendance systems from 100 to "a manageable number."

OPM Director Jeff Pon made the case that that OPM's relinquishing of core functions and moving the agency to the White House would let the agency "concentrate on centralized policy development in areas such as employee compensation, workforce supply and demand, identification of future workforce skill needs [and] leadership and talent management."

Pon said before OPM hands off the health benefits and retirement systems, the agency plans to first digitize the currently paper-based records, which he said will take "at least a year or two."

Senators made clear they're going to need more details about the White House's proposal to move core functions of the Office of Personnel Management into the General Services Administration before providing their necessary approval to move ahead.

At a July 26 hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs, lawmakers said they needed more detail.

"Just rearranging the chairs or who sits where, in my opinion, doesn't solve some of the problems that I see that need to be solved within OPM," said Ranking Member Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.).

"The administration's proposals are bold," said panel chairamn Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.). "The vast majority of them will need congressional action."

Murphy testified the agencies are already taking steps to move forward with the restructuring. Specifically, she said GSA and OPM "have established working groups and appointed transition coordinators" to assist the merger and provide clarity.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) raised concerns that moving OPM out of its current independent position and into the White House would "make HR policy for career staff a function of politics."

The reorganization plan dovetailed with direction from the Office of Management and Budget to reduce the size of the federal workforce. Pon testified that the reorganization is a means to reduce federal workforce.

"I want to be clear on this point: This proposal is not a secretive plan to fire civil servants," Pon said.

While much of the plan will need congressional approval moving forward, Pon testified the administration is "taking a phased approach" to the restructuring rather than waiting until the entire proposal is approved.

The first phase, Murphy added, will be to transition human resources solutions to GSA.

Lankford also pressed the Murphy and Pon for a timeline on when certain actions will need to take place to transition functions, as well as enough heads up for Congress to pass whatever legislation may be necessary.