Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., was one of the lawmakers who wrote the letter.

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., was one of the lawmakers who wrote the letter. Andrew Harnik/AP

Lawmakers: Discussion of Furloughs at OPM Was 'Premature and Unnecessary'

Officials should have considered furloughs or layoffs as a last resort in addressing the agency's budget shortfall, senators say in letter demanding more information.

Senate Democrats assailed leadership at the Office of Personnel Management over its approach to dealing with a nearly $70 million budget shortfall precipitated by the transfer of the agency’s security clearance functions to the Defense Department.

Last month, it was reported that acting OPM Director Margaret Weichert suggested the agency would consider furloughing roughly 150 employees to cover the final $23 million of that deficit if Congress did not move ahead with the White House’s proposal to merge OPM with the General Services Administration. But later that month, Weichert told agency employees at a town hall, first reported by Government Executive, that officials have found other ways to avoid furloughs, at least temporarily.

Sens. Gary Peters, D-Mich., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., sent a letter to Weichert Wednesday calling any discussion of furloughs “premature and unnecessary,” citing an appropriations package passed by the House last month that provides OPM with additional funding in excess of the agency’s projected funding gap. They also accused Weichert of not considering furloughs to be a last resort, and demanded a briefing from the agency by July 24 to discuss alternative methods to alleviate OPM’s financial issues.

“In a briefing to congressional staff, OPM acknowledged that it has not conducted a full analysis of its own resources and how these could be used to address short-term budget shortfalls,” Peters and Murray wrote. “These steps must be taken before OPM takes the drastic step of furloughing, and possibly laying off, hard-working federal employees who were already forced to go without pay while furloughed earlier this year.”

The senators also expressed suspicion at the fact that OPM did not inform Congress of its budget shortfall until late this spring, and only did so as partial justification for the Trump administration’s controversial proposal to send most of the agency’s functions to GSA and vest its regulatory authority in a non-Senate confirmed presidential appointee within the Office of Management and Budget.

“We are concerned by the administration’s delay in alerting Congress to the scope of this issue, particularly as OPM has known about the pending transfer of functions to DoD since at least 2017,” Murray and Peters wrote. “We are further concerned that this premature announcement [of potential] furloughs could worsen OPM’s ongoing workforce attrition issues. And we are particularly troubled by the administration’s linking of this budget gap and a proposed reorganization of OPM.”

OPM did not immediately respond to a request for comment.