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Union Argues OPM Nominee Has a 'Fundamental Inability' to Run an Agency

A management group stands by its support of Dale Cabaniss, although it remains wary of the plan to dismantle the personnel agency.

The nation’s largest federal employee union announced this week that it opposes the nomination of Dale Cabaniss to lead the Office of Personnel Management, arguing she has a “fundamental inability” to run a federal agency.

In a May 7 letter to the leadership of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which is considering Cabaniss's nomination, American Federation of Government Employees Legislative Director Alethea Predeoux blasted the nominee, citing Government Executive’s reporting on Cabaniss's tenure as the chairwoman of the Federal Labor Relations Authority from 2001 until 2008.

“When she headed the Federal Labor Relations Authority, an independent measure of morale at the agency indicated that employees’ job satisfaction declined, resulting in a loss [of] more than 40 percent of its career workforce and a significant drop-off in productivity,” Predeoux wrote. “As a measure of her effectiveness, 55 percent of the FLRA’s decisions issued during her tenure [that were challenged in court] were overturned on appeal.”

Last month, Government Executive found that in 2007, the FLRA placed dead last among federal agencies in the Partnership for Public Service’s Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings, with an employee engagement score of 18.1 out of 100. Former employees and colleagues described her tenure as one marked by a “deficit of leadership,” and by the time she departed the agency, the FLRA board had accumulated a significant backlog of pending cases.

At her confirmation hearing Tuesday, Cabaniss defended her actions while leading the FLRA, arguing that her poor engagement scores were the result of employees being unwilling to go along with needed policy changes. She declined to take questions from reporters following the hearing.

“It was a time of change when I arrived; there were a lot of deficiencies in HR and procurement and acquisition issues, and employees were not treated equally,” Cabaniss said Tuesday. “There were a lot of changes in policies and guidance, not only to be consistent with [President George W. Bush’s] management agenda, but to make sure everyone is treated fairly. I understand it was not popular, but they were things we needed to do to be stewards of taxpayer dollars and to make sure merit principles were followed.”

Predeoux, whose union represents bargaining unit employees at OPM, said that Cabaniss is the wrong person to lead OPM as the Trump administration prepares to dismantle the agency, sending most of its operations to the General Services Administration.

“AFGE is working to defend OPM and to prevent this reckless action from going forward, but if some or all of the administration’s plan is carried out, to forestall a worst-case-scenario outcome, it will be important to have a director of OPM who appreciates the merit system and the civil service,” Predeoux wrote. “Dale Cabaniss’s record demonstrates that she does not have the requisite qualities to serve in such a capacity.”

Although the Senior Executives Association still supports Cabaniss’ nomination, Executive Director Jason Briefel said her inability to state the rationale behind the decision to send OPM’s operations to other agencies highlights the need for greater scrutiny over the proposal.

“SEA appreciates that Ms. Cabaniss confirmed the lack of, and necessity for, transparency, stakeholder engagement, a business case supported by analysis, and legislative authorization to make significant changes to OPM,” Briefel said. “Congress is asking many of the same very appropriate questions about the administration’s proposed OPM-GSA merger that we and many in the federal community have. Those questions must be addressed before the plan can move forward.”