Jacquelyn Martin / AP file photo

OPM Sees Eye-to-Eye With Outside Experts on Its Future Role in Governmentwide Personnel Policy

The federal government’s human resources agency said it is incorporating many of the ideas proposed by the National Academy of Public Administration in its upcoming strategic plan, but some will require funding increases and congressional action.

The Office of Personnel Management on Monday announced that it agrees with the vast majority of recommendations posed by a recent study on the future of the agency and is incorporating much of that report’s findings into its strategic plan and budget requests.

In March, the National Academy of Public Administration released its long-awaited report on how to modernize OPM, effectively closing the book on the Trump administration’s controversial plan to abolish the agency and send its functions to the General Services Administration and the Executive Office of the President.

That report called on Congress to elevate the agency to be the leader on human capital issues across the entirety of the federal government—not just agencies covered by Title 5—and said OPM should shift its approach to management from one that is focused on compliance on a transactional basis to a more forward-looking, data-driven and customer-focused role.

“The OPM director—and human capital as a whole—needs a ‘seat at the table,’” the March report stated. “The director should be the principal advisor to the president on human capital, as envisioned in the Civil Service Reform Act, and OPM should be that lead for federal civilian human capital, setting policy, establishing a framework for agencies to manage their workforces, facilitating innovation and the sharing of best practices and lessons learned, and both collecting and using data and data analytics.”

In the agency’s formal response to the report, which was due to Congress this week, OPM said it agrees with most of NAPA’s recommendations, although several will require congressional action, a substantial increase in funding, or both.

“Overall, OPM accepts the spirit and much of the substance of the NAPA study and its recommendations,” the agency wrote. “The NAPA study identifies a clear need for OPM as the ‘independent, enterprise-wide human capital agency and steward of the merit system principles.’ The study broadly affirms the importance of a strong, independent and forward-leaning OPM to meet the modern human capital management needs of the federal government. OPM firmly agrees with this role for the agency and views the general direction and tenor of the NAPA study recommendations as a valuable guide in that direction.”

OPM said that many of NAPA’s recommendations have already been incorporated into the agency’s fiscal 2022-2026 strategic plan and will be used as the agency develops its fiscal 2023 budget request, which is due to the Office of Management and Budget in October. The new strategic plan will not be public until February 2023, coinciding with the release of President Biden’s fiscal 2023 budget proposal.

The agency provided a rough cost estimate for the implementation of each of NAPA’s recommendations, which, taken together, ranged from $126 million to $249 million or more. The recommendation relating to OPM’s need to modernize its IT infrastructure alone included an open-ended cost estimate of at least $50 million.

In a statement, OPM Director Kiran Ahuja said she will ensure the agency is focused on implementing policies that reaffirm OPM as a strong and independent leader in governmental human resources.

“Our response [to the NAPA report] demonstrates our broad agreement and deep engagement with the study’s findings, as well as our commitment to many of the policy changes and financial investments it lays out for OPM to continue serving as the one, indispensable partner for federal agencies and their strategic human capital needs,” Ahuja said. “Our response also highlights OPM’s commitment to innovation and delivering results, from hiring for critical skillsets to identifying new strategies for employee engagement, retention and quality of life improvements. Taken together, the NAPA study and our response demonstrate a clear path for OPM to deliver on its charge, now and well into the future.”