Senators question proposal to place Trump appointee in charge of federal workforce policy

U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), along with Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (both D-MD), today wrote to Acting Director Russell T. Vought to express grave concern over a new Trump Administration proposal that would, among other things, effectively end Congress’ ability to provide advice and consent over the individual responsible for establishing federal workforce policy and regulations.

As part of a White House proposal sent to congressional leaders on Thursday, workforce policy responsibilities currently executed by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) would be transferred to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), thereby taking these crucial duties from a Senate-confirmed director and assigning them to an administrator appointed directly by the President.

“We wish to express both our frustration about the lack of transparency that defined the Administration’s drafting of this proposal and our grave concern that these changes will negatively impact and further undermine our country’s federal workforce,” the Senators wrote. “The vast majority of the federal workforce is comprised of career civil servants who perform their duties apolitically and without regard to which party presently heads the Executive Branch. These dedicated employees are the lifeblood of our democracy and it is imperative that they continue to be insulated from the political impulses of this President and any future President. Federal workers have every right to be concerned with this proposal and the Administration owes them substantially more information and transparency than has been provided to date.”

Last Thursday, May 16, the Trump Administration requested congressional authorization to merge the vast majority of OPM functions and responsibilities into the General Services Administration (GSA), including Human Resources Solutions, Information Technology, Retirement, and Health and Insurance Services. A key component of this proposal involves transferring the role of establishing government-wide workforce policy to a new Office of Federal Workforce Policy within OMB, which rests under the authority of the Executive Office of the President. This move would remove the Senate’s ability to have pre-selection oversight over the individual responsible for setting policies and regulations that affect federal workers nationwide, therefore opening the doors for this, or a future Administration, to act with political motivation towards the federal workforce.

In their letter to OMB, the Senators conveyed great concern about the possibility of allowing politically-motivated individuals to set policies that affect loyal public servants in apolitical career roles. They also questioned Acting Director Vought about the nature of this unprecedented decision and its effect on federal workers – and requested that no further action be taken until all questions are thoroughly addressed.

These questions include:

  • What analysis has been conducted to evaluate the potential costs and risks associated with this proposal? What specific factors have been considered, and which perceived benefits were regarded as outweighing any disruption and risk to the federal workforce?
  • How can federal workers nationwide and Congress feel confident that neither this President nor any future President would act to politicize civil service or take retaliatory or punitive action against federal workers?
  • What other changes to federal workforce policy or the organization of OPM and/or GSA does the Administration plan to take before receiving—or absent altogether—additional Congressional authorization to implement aspects of this proposal? If any, under what statutory authority does the Administration perceive to be empowered to take such actions?
  • What input was considered from Members of Congress, congressional committees, or federal workforce unions, management associations, professional associations, and affinity groups in drafting this proposal?
  • What impact would this proposal have on the number of individuals employed by OPM? In what ways would the number of individuals dedicated to the current responsibilities and mandates of OPM change with the implementation of this proposal? Does this proposal assume increased or flat funding authorization levels for GSA after the merge?
  • Does the Administration believe GSA currently has adequate cybersecurity resources and funding to appropriately protect their current mission, in addition to that of OPM?

Sens. Warner, Kaine, Cardin, and Van Hollen have been long-time, outspoken advocates for federal workers. In February, the Senators pressed OMB to implement the 1.9 percent pay increase for federal employees they worked to pass into law earlier in the year. Amid the partial federal government shutdown, the Senators took a series of actions to protect affected workers, including guaranteeing back pay for federal employees, urging back pay for contractors, introducing budget amendments to protect federal workers, and urging OPM to prevent the termination of dental and vision insurance for federal employees.


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