Office of Personnel Management headquarters in Washington.

Office of Personnel Management headquarters in Washington.

Lawmaker Questions Oversight of Agencies’ Buyout, Early Retirement Offers

OPM has a history of approving faulty requests for separation incentive authority, congressman says.

One member of Congress is worried about the Trump administration’s oversight of agencies’ efforts to cut their workforces, seeking more information on how it will approve reduction programs.

Agencies have previously failed to effectively implement separation incentives designed to reduce and reshape their workforces, Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo., wrote in a letter he plans to send to acting Office of Personnel Management Director Kathleen McGettigan, adding those mistakes should be avoided as agencies look to fulfill the administration’s requirement to trim their rolls. Luetkemeyer specifically blamed OPM for failing to ensure workforce reduction efforts were carefully considered and meeting achievable goals.

The congressman cited OPM for its lackluster oversight of a Small Business Administration program that offered employees early retirement and buyout incentives in 2014. A May inspector general report found the agency “did not accomplish its stated goals” when making the offers, while spending “$2.1 million that the SBA could have used for other priorities.” Its goals were neither specific nor measurable, the IG said, and the agency failed to deliver on the skill gap analysis necessary to ensure it was targeting the right employees.

Joseph Loddo, SBA’s chief operating officer, told a House committee in June that OPM should never have approved the agency’s request for separation incentive authority in the first place, as it made its decision based upon faulty premises.

“Clearly, in this case OPM failed to conduct its due diligence of oversight by neglecting its own recommended approaches to [Voluntary Early Retirement Authority and Voluntary Separation Incentive Payment] which the [OPM-approved] plan lacked,” Luetkemeyer said, “and failing to verify the premises under which the SBA VERA-VSIP plan was approved.”

SBA has said it will not offer any separation incentives as part of its reorganization plan under Trump, and instead will rely on attrition to meet any workforce reduction goals.

The Office of Management and Budget, in response to an executive order from President Trump, sent out a memorandum in April calling on agencies to develop plans to reduce their civilian workforces and streamline their operations. While final drafts on those plans are not due until the end of September, OMB Director Mick Mulvaney said agencies should begin taking steps to cut their rolls immediately. OMB called on OPM to develop the capacity to approve requests for buyout and early retirement authorities within 30 days. The budget office said OPM will “work with agencies to facilitate reductions in the size of their workforce and monitor progress.” OPM has already established “a team to process and advise on agency requests for VERA and VSIP and templates to streamline the approval process,” an agency spokesperson previously told Government Executive.

Agencies can offer up to $25,000 to employees who have worked in government at least three years through a Voluntary Separation Incentive Payment and allow employees not otherwise eligible for retirement benefits to receive them through Voluntary Early Retirement Authority. OPM must approve all early out and buyout programs, which it has already started doing at some agencies.

“VERA-VSIP authority is certain to be utilized in the drafting and pending implementation of these plans,” Luetkemeyer said of the agency reform proposals due by Sept. 30. “Given OPM's direct oversight of this authority, it vital that OPM take all necessary steps to ensure agencies offer VERA-VSIP in a manner consistent with its program policies and specific goals.”

Luetkemeyer has yet to send the letter to McGettigan, and a spokeswoman said the congressman is circulating it among his colleagues to encourage them to sign their names in support. He specifically plans to ask OPM what actions it intends to take to ensure agencies follow through on the plans they submit when requesting VERA-VSIP authority, what OPM will do if agencies fail to follow their plans, and how OPM will determine the accuracy of the information agencies submit with their requests.