By Mark Van Scyoc /

Watchdog Accuses OPM of Slow-Rolling Hiring Abuse Investigation

IG is looking into alleged misuse of direct hire authority to install political appointees in positions that should be held by career federal workers.

The Office of Personnel Management inspector general on Wednesday informed congressional leaders that OPM officials had failed to comply with document requests related to an investigation into the agency’s use of direct hire authority.

In May, the House Oversight and Reform Committee asked acting OPM Inspector General Norbert Vint to investigate reports that OPM was misusing its direct hire authority to install political appointees in positions typically held by career civil servants. But over a two-month period, the agency failed to provide any documents to the inspector general’s office pertaining to the issue.

A congressional aide with knowledge of the matter told Government Executive that a source inside OPM informed lawmakers last spring that OPM officials were taking advantage of the agency’s direct hire authority to expand the ranks of political appointees by hiring them to positions traditionally reserved for career federal employees. Direct hire authority is a practice where agencies may go outside the traditional civil service hiring process to fill vacancies when there is a critical hiring need or there is a shortage of qualified candidates after going through the normal process.

Federal law requires agencies to cooperate with inspector general investigations and provide records to investigators in a “timely” manner, and the fiscal 2020 Financial Services and General Government appropriations law blocks federal funds from being used to impede an inspector general investigation, and requires inspectors general to report an agency’s failure to cooperate in an investigation to lawmakers.

In a letter to appropriators in the House and Senate, Vint said OPM missed two deadlines—on June 17 and July 17—to provide any of the requested documentation, despite officials being aware that the inspector general’s office was willing to accept records on a rolling basis as they became available. He noted that acting OPM Director Michael Rigas was made aware of the request, and the impending deadline, at a meeting on July 14.

“The IG Act tasks the OPM OIG with the responsibility to promote economy, efficiency, and effectiveness within the agency,” Vint wrote. “Timely access to agency records is essential in order for the OIG to perform this critical work. In summary, the agency has missed two deadlines, a month apart. The OPM OIG repeatedly informed the agency that we would accept a rolling production, yet 35 days later the agency has failed to provide the OPM OIG with any documents.”

An OPM spokesperson said that the documents requested by the inspector general were submitted for review on Wednesday, but declined to answer questions about the agency’s use of direct hire authority.

Faiza Mathon-Mathieu, senior counsel for legislative and external affairs at the OPM Office of the Inspector General, confirmed that the agency handed over documents on Wednesday, but said investigators will not know if they received everything they requested until they have finished reviewing the submission.

In a statement, Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., who chairs the House Oversight and Reform subcommittee on government operations and has frequently criticized the Trump administration’s efforts to send OPM’s functions to the General Services Administration and the Executive Office of the President of being an attempt to dismantle career federal employees’ civil service protections, blasted OPM officials for dragging their feet in producing documents.

“The continued stonewalling from the Trump administration is an affront to our Constitution,” Connolly said. “Cooperating with oversight is not optional. The inspector general is carrying out his responsibility in pursuing this legitimate investigation. OPM must immediately turn over all relevant documents.”