OPM Is Ready, but No Agencies Have Requested Separation Incentive Authority Yet

OMB Director Mick Mulvaney. OMB sent out an April memorandum calling on agencies to develop plans to reduce their civilian workforces and streamline their operations. OMB Director Mick Mulvaney. OMB sent out an April memorandum calling on agencies to develop plans to reduce their civilian workforces and streamline their operations. Andrew Harnik/AP

No federal agencies have requested special authority to incentivize their employees to leave, according to the office responsible for granting the permission, despite a call from the White House to engage in the tactic as a means for cutting their workforces.

The Office of Personnel Management has not yet received any requests to process buyout or early retirement authority, an agency spokesperson said. The Office of Management and Budget sent out an April memorandum calling on agencies to develop plans to reduce their civilian workforces and streamline their operations. While first drafts on those plans are not due until June 30, OMB Director Mick Mulvaney said agencies should begin taking steps to cut their rolls immediately.

OPM is currently standing ready to assist any agencies that might want to turn to Voluntary Early Retirement Authority or Voluntary Separation Incentive payments.

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“OPM has established a team to process and advise on agency requests for VERA and VSIP and templates to streamline the approval process,” the OPM spokesperson said.

OMB called on OPM to develop the capacity to approve those authorities within 30 days. Going forward, as agencies finalize job-cutting plans as part of the fiscal 2018 budget process, OMB and OPM will “work with agencies to facilitate reductions in the size of their workforce and monitor progress,” OMB said. Agencies have already submitted their preliminary “skinny budget” proposals and will issue their full requests later this month. As part of their June 30 plans, agencies must report to OMB on the progress they have already made in “near-term workforce reduction actions.” In addition to financial incentives, OMB said agencies should consider not filling vacant positions and not bringing back employees currently on administrative leave due to poor performance or misconduct.

Some agencies have already announced their preliminary plans to shed employees. The Environmental Protection Agency said it would offer buyouts and early retirements and separate employees by October. EPA has even begun to hold informational hearings with employees at regional offices to notify them of their options. The agency has not yet made the necessary request for the incentives, according to OPM. The State Department is reportedly looking to remove 600 employees through buyouts, though officials said that plan has not yet been finalized. Veterans Affairs Department Secretary David Shulkin announced he would not fill 4,000 positions that are currently vacant, but he has not yet said if VA will request financial incentive separation authority.

Linda Springer, an OMB senior adviser, architect of the recent guidance and former OPM director during the George W. Bush administration, recently told Government Executive her old agency has been involved to “answer questions and facilitate any requests.”

Trump recently reiterated his desire to trim the size of the federal workforce in a statement honoring Public Service Recognition Week, which started Sunday. He said he would “empower our civil servants” by enabling them to suggest ways to “make our government dramatically more accountable, effective and efficient.” 

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