April 11, 2019
While heads are rolling over at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) this week, Trump has not stopped there. He also is moving to do what no president has accomplished since World War II— eliminate the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) a major federal agency that oversees the government’s 2.1 million strong civilian workforce, The Washington Post reported on April 9.
Indeed, the Post says, if the administration succeeds at disassembling the OPM—dividing it into functional sections that would be absorbed by other federal departments—the closure could be a blueprint for shuttering other agencies and shrinking the government. For example, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) would take over high-level policies governing federal employees—a plan that advocates and unions already are discrediting as a backdoor ploy to politicize the civil service by installing appointees close to the White House.
The operation is expected to be observed closely—not just on Capitol Hill; but also by other agencies that could be next, and by organizations that support and represent for federal employees. The American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employee union, with 750,000 members, is calling the idea “Trump’s Dangerous Plan to Abolish OPM” and predicting a “disastrous” result if policy for federal employees moves so close to the White House.
Federal employees “would be forced into a fight for the pay and benefits they’ve earned every time an administration decides they want to free up money for a pet political project,” the union said.
Overall, the plan envisions a smaller, more consolidated government, in line with the president’s campaign promise to “cut so much your head will spin.” Wiping out the federal personnel agency could be part of a list of victories that Trump cites during the 2020 campaign, from deregulation and tax cuts to trade tariffs.
An executive order directing parts of the transition to take place by next fall is in the final stages of review, administration officials told the news outlet, with an announcement by President Trump likely by the summer. The 5,565 OPM employees were briefed about the reorganization at a meeting in March.
“It’s a big, exemplary step,” Margaret Weichert, deputy director for Management at the Office of Management and Budget— and acting OPM director—said in an interview with the Post. She characterized the agency created to oversee the civil service in 1978, as “fundamentally not set up for success, structurally.”
However, for Democrats and their allies in the labor movement, the effort to abolish the agency and redistribute its functions represents a power play in defiance of Congress.
“Does anyone really think that, if tomorrow the president said, ‘I’m dismantling DOD, and I think Ben Carson over at HUD can handle procurement and Betsy DeVos over at Education can handle the Army,’ that it would fly through?” asked Representative Gerald Connolly (D-Virginia.), chairman of a House Oversight Committee panel on Government Operations.
That’s a request it will not be easy to fulfill: The White House is short on details, even as it prepares to move employees out of OPM’s headquarters in downtown DC. Officials were not able to estimate the short- or long-term savings that would be realized as a result of the closure.
The administration is asking Congress for $50 million in fiscal 2020 to carry out the reshuffling, the Post reported.
Finally, the news outlet pointed out, breaking up OPM is not a Republican idea. The Obama administration discussed internally whether to do it, and so did Hillary Clinton’s team in 2016, civil service experts said. And the agency drew bipartisan fury in 2015 when U.S. officials alleged Chinese hackers stole millions of personnel records by hacking through the agency’s weak security system.
Research contact: @Reinlwapo