Lawmakers Introduce Bill To Insulate OPM From Political Interference

Legislation would require presidents to nominate OPM directors without political considerations and make them the president’s “principal advisor” on federal workforce issues.

A bipartisan group of House lawmakers on Tuesday introduced legislation aimed at protecting the Office of Personnel Management from politicization.

During the Trump administration, OPM saw an influx of political appointees and an exodus of career leadership. The White House made an abortive attempt to dissolve the agency entirely and send its duties to the General Services Administration and the Executive Office of the President. Earlier this year, the National Academy of Public Administration issued a congressionally ordered report that recommended strengthening the agency both in terms of political guardrails and elevating its position as a leader in federal human capital issues.

Reps. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Penn., introduced the Strengthening the Office of Personnel Management Act in an effort to implement some of NAPA’s recommendations.

The bill would require the president to nominate an OPM director “without regard to political affiliation” and who has experience in human capital management, and would require the president submit a report to Congress 30 days in advance of firing the director providing the reasoning for the removal. It also would establish the OPM director as the president’s “principal advisor” on federal workforce issues, echoing NAPA’s recommendation.

Additionally, the legislation require that the agency’s chief management officer be a career federal employee and member of the Senior Executive Service and mandate that the OPM director to fill that position within 90 days of the bill’s enactment.

The bill would create a 15-member federal advisory committee that would report to the OPM director on federal workforce issues and “stakeholder needs.” The committee would be made up a mix of public sector human resources professionals, nonprofit and academic groups, federal employee organizations (including labor unions) and agency chief human capital officers.

“We successfully stopped the previous administration from abolishing OPM; now we have a responsibility to rebuild and modernize the agency,” Connolly said in a statement. “Federal employees are the crown jewel of government, and we must build a human resources agency nimble and prepared to help us attract and retain the talent our nation needs to provide vital services today and into the future.”

The bill already has won the support of the National Treasury Employees Union, the National Federation of Federal Employees and the Partnership for Public Service. National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association President Ken Thomas said his organization “strongly backs” the measure.

The legislation "would implement some key legislative recommendations made in NAPA’s report," Thomas said. “These recommendations are long overdue, and it’s heartening to see Rep. Connolly’s leadership in following through and translating them into legislative language.”