OPM headquarters in Washington.

OPM headquarters in Washington. Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Inspector General Blasts Efforts to Transfer OPM Facility Authority to GSA

The Office of Personnel Management watchdog said the Trump administration took action without regard to the impact, potentially incurring millions of dollars in recurring annual costs.

The Office of Personnel Management inspector general reported this week that efforts to transfer the management of OPM facilities to the General Services Administration occurred without regard for whether the initiative would save or cost taxpayer money, and continued well after Congress prohibited such actions pending an independent study on the future of the agency.

The Trump administration’s proposal to transfer most of OPM’s operations to GSA and its policy arm to the Executive Office of the President drew bipartisan criticism last year, eventually culminating in a provision of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act barring the government from moving forward with the proposal until an independent study can be conducted by the National Academy of Public Administration. That report is expected in March 2021.

In a report dated August 5 and published by the House Oversight and Reform Committee Friday, Acting OPM Inspector General Norbert Vint concluded that efforts to turn over the operation and maintenance of the Theodore Roosevelt Federal Building in Washington and the Federal Executive Institute in Charlottesville, Virginia, to GSA as part of plans to merge the two agencies did not take into account whether it was cost effective to do so.

“While seemingly in line with the administration’s proposal to merge OPM into GSA, the full impact on costs and services was not determined to show whether or not the revocations [of OPM’s facility management agreements] were in the best interest of the government,” Vint wrote. “Further, once questions arose and the proposed merger was put on hold pending the outcome of the NAPA study, the revocations continued, taking on a life of their own, without regard to the impact on OPM.”

In the case of the Federal Executive Institute, GSA revoked OPM’s delegation to operate and maintain the facility in July 2019. But GSA mangled its contract to operate the facility, basing it on a series of misunderstandings about the campus’ operations.

“The FEI is operational 24/7, 340 days a year, with senior federal leaders residing on campus for weeks at a time,” Vint wrote. “Despite these facts, GSA worked throughout the later part of 2019 to contract for operation and maintenance services based on its standard level of service, which is based on a building being open only 10 hours each day five days a week.”

Although GSA claimed that the cost to run the facility would not increase under its control, OPM has estimated the cost would increase by around $400,000 per year to provide equivalent services.

And although GSA restored OPM’s authority to operate the campus last month, as part of the shift toward GSA management, the Homeland Security Department has revoked OPM’s authority to procure security services from the Federal Protective Services, costing OPM an additional $300,000 annually at the Federal Executive Institute.

Transfer of authority to run OPM’s headquarters in the Theodore Roosevelt Federal Building has not yet been completed, but its potential costs could be even worse for taxpayers, the inspector general found.

“A preliminary analysis completed by OPM shows that allowing GSA to resume operation and maintenance of the [Roosevelt Building] would increase OPM’s rent costs by approximately $4.2 million annually,” the report stated. “In addition, since existing operation and maintenance contracts would no longer be needed, OPM could potentially incur approximately $10.2 million in contract termination fees.”

Although Congress blocked the administration from advancing its plan to merge OPM and GSA, the two agencies continued to pursue transferring OPM’s headquarters to GSA control as late as February 2020. Plans to transfer the authority to GSA are currently delayed until September 2021.

“The results of the independent [NAPA] study and the corresponding agency report have the potential to completely change the way in which OPM operates or is structured,” Vint wrote. “Despite this change in context, GSA continued to move forward with the plan to assume responsibility for operating and maintaining the [Roosevelt Building].”

OPM was defiant in the face of the inspector general’s recommendation that the agency formally request a return of its delegation to operate its headquarters and delay any space feasibility studies until after the NAPA study is complete.

“OPM states that it wants to review the results of the ongoing feasibility study so that it can determine the best course of action for OPM’s mission while being good stewards of taxpayer dollars,” OPM wrote. “[The] current delegation of authority will remain in place until Sept. 30, 2021. OPM intends to use this time to work with GSA to gather the information necessary to maximize the cost effectiveness of OPM’s space allocation.”

Vint wrote in response that his office believes the time six months between the release of the NAPA report and the September transfer date constitutes “little time to adequately assess the costs and impact on OPM.”

In a statement, Rep. Gerry Connolly, chairman of the government operations subcommittee on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said the report shows that the Trump administration did not vet their own plan or consider the needs of federal workers or the public in its deliberations.

“This administration continues its discredited attempts to attack the beating heart of our federal government—the agency that services our dedicated federal employees—at a potential cost to American taxpayers of more than $14 million,” he said. “Leaders at the Office of Management and Budget, the General Services Administration and OPM once again failed to consider how their actions would affect their agencies, the federal workforce, the government, and the taxpayers.”