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OPM Seeks IT Security Pros

The agency says it won’t lay off employees as part of its technology overhaul.

The Office of Personnel Management does not plan to lay off employees as part of a new effort to modernize and restructure its information technology systems, according to top officials.

In fact, the agency is looking to hire “a handful of IT security professionals” who would be federal workers and not contractors, said OPM’s Chief Information Officer Donna Seymour during a recent joint interview with agency Director Katherine Archuleta. Seymour and Archuleta talked to Government Executive about the agency’s ambitious blueprint for updating, standardizing and improving its information technology -- an integral component of OPM’s major responsibilities from overseeing the hiring of federal workers to processing retirement applications.

Seymour said she would be moving some employees around but was “not envisioning any RIFs at all.” Seymour, who came to OPM in December from the Defense Department, is putting together a reorganization plan for her office – about 135 employees -- for Archuleta’s review.

Archuleta emphasized that OPM’s approach to improving and consolidating IT systems related to human resources is an agency- and governmentwide effort. “It is not wise for us to just develop a case management system that is unique to retirement services,” she said. The system needs to be useful to investigative services, for example, and other offices that require personnel data. That makes privacy and data protection paramount in any comprehensive IT plan, Archuleta said.  

The idea is to create an “HR lifecycle IT framework” for federal employees from “strategy to separation,” according to the plan, tracking employee recruitment, hiring, training, career development, and finally, retirement.

The plan envisions staggered deadlines for meeting goals over the next year or so with continuous assessments of what’s working and what isn’t. Archuleta said the agency won’t post its progress online but will field questions from the media and provide information as requested on an ongoing basis.

OPM has struggled for years to put in place cost-effective and capable technology systems that help the agency expedite hiring, vet employees and process retirement applications in a more timely fashion. During her confirmation hearing in July 2013, Archuleta pledged to make IT a priority and to deliver a plan to improve it early in her tenure. “Identifying new IT leadership, using existing agency expertise, and seeking advice from experts from inside government and the private sector, I believe that OPM can successfully update its IT systems,” she told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee at the time. As the government’s HR shop, OPM also will have to work closely with other agencies to create an efficient and secure personnel data management system. 

OPM’s employees -- particularly those working under the chief information officer -- will have to work and think differently, too. “As we work to implement this plan, we know there will be necessary changes, including structural ones that will impact the workforce across our agency, and especially those in the CIO,” the IT plan stated. “We must engage our people in open dialogue throughout this process to help them see the new vision, appreciate that they play a very important role in its success, understand the new ways they will need to do things, and perhaps learn new skills.”

(Image via wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock.com)