Trump administration officials have put the Office of Personnel Management on the chopping block in an ambitious but controversial bid to reorganize the federal government -- and they are ready to furlough or even lay off workers if Congress stands in their way.
According to an internal document obtained by The Washington Post, workers could be sent home on Oct. 1 and laid off 30 days later, if Congress will not agree to their plan to eliminate the agency -- which essentially serves as HR of the federal government.
“This is a crisis building for years,” acting OPM Director Margaret Weichert told the Post. Weichert said furloughs are a “last resort we are trying to avoid,” and that “a legislative solution would be the most straightforward answer.”
The administration’s plan is to eliminate the OPM, which manages 2.1 million civilian federal workers, and divide its roles among three other agencies. Recent legislation has already called for its security clearance system to move to the Department of Defense. Most of OPM’s responsibilities would fall under the General Services Administration, and a new GSA deputy who would be appointed by the president to take over for OPM’s current agency director.
According to administration officials, the OPM’s current problems include a backlog of retirement-related paperwork, poor hiring practices and weaknesses in their security that left them open to a breach of their data system.
Weichert has stressed the urgency of the situation, reportedly telling staff she is “planning to play chicken with Congress.” She told the Post the administration has “made it very clear we can’t wait without action.”
The looming shift of security clearance responsibilities from OPM to the DoD is expected to strip OPM of $70 million from its budget. If OPM is to continue to exist, they would have to make up the difference, and Weichert believes furloughing 150 employees would help achieve that by saving $23 million.
"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," OMB spokesperson Jacob Wood told Fox News. "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."
Democrats are working to block the elimination of OPM, and the House Appropriations Committee passed a bill that would prohibit the White House from using government funds to “reorganize or transfer any function” of OPM.
Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va., chairman of the House Oversight Committee’s government operations panel, told the Post, “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 long-standing merit-based civil service system.”
Weichert said earlier this year that the plan could save between $11 million and $37 million per year from the consolidation of facilities and contracts. President Trump's budget request for 2020 requested $50 million for the reorganization.