Executive order asserts the power of OPM, MSPB

Even federal agencies that don't have to follow standard civil service rules must still answer to merit system oversight agencies, according to an executive order issued in the Federal Register Thursday.

Title 5 of the U.S. Code dictates standard personnel rules for the federal government. The Office of Personnel Management is required by law to ensure that federal agencies operate their human resources management programs in accordance with the merit system principles of fairness, efficiency and objectivity. OPM does so by reviewing workforce information that agencies are legally required to provide.

But certain federal agencies are exempt from the personnel rules of Title 5. For example, performance-based organizations, such as the Education Department's Student Financial Aid office, are exempt from the strict personnel rules of Title 5. Parts of the IRS and parts of the Veterans Affairs Department, as well as the entire Federal Aviation Administration, are also not governed by Title 5.

As a result, there has been debate in the federal human resources community as to whether these agencies are required to report workforce information to OPM and are subject to oversight by OPM and the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), the federal government's guardian of merit-based employment.

Executive Order 13197 ends the debate by clarifying that all federal agencies in the executive branch, including those exempt from Title 5, must comply with merit system principles and must submit workforce information to OPM for oversight purposes. There is one exception: agencies that deal with national security, such as the CIA, FBI, Defense Intelligence Agency and National Imagery and Mapping Agency, are exempt from the order.

"The President and the public need to be assured that federal agencies are monitoring the exercise of all human resources management authorities that have been delegated to them," the order said.

OPM's merit systems oversight office uses workforce data to identify opportunities for improving personnel programs and to help agencies with effective recruitment and employee development.

John Palguta, director of MSPB's office of policy and evaluation, said the executive order has been in the works since last spring. Work on the executive order, dated Jan. 18, was completed in time for it to be issued during the last days of the Clinton administration. But Palguta said he doubts that the Bush administration will override the order.

"It simply sets the record straight," Palguta said. "It's one of those good government provisions that makes sure Congress and the President will have access to information."

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