Connolly introduces new legislation aimed at strengthening OPM

If there was any fear that a recent slate of recommendations designed to fortify and empower the Office of Personnel Management might go unnoticed in a perpetually-busy Congress, a small, bipartisan group of House members are paying some attention.

Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations, introduced a new bill known as the “Strengthen OPM Act” on Tuesday, legislation that would implement a few of the recommendations the National Academy of Public Administration made earlier this year.

Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) are co-sponsors.

NAPA made a variety of recommendations back in March but centered on a particular theme — that Congress and the Biden administration needed to pay urgent attention to an agency that has a big mission but has been under-funded and unstable for many years.

The recommendations were a result of a year-long, congressionally-mandated study of OPM and its statutory missions following an attempt by the previous administration to reorganize and dismantle the agency.

“We successfully stopped the previous administration from abolishing OPM, now we have a responsibility to rebuild and modernize this agency,” Connolly said Tuesday 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.”

Much of the Strengthen OPM Act would redefine and codify the agency’s role and mission. The legislation, for example, said OPM “shall lead the federal government in enterprise strategic human resources management” and “function as an independent human capital agency for federal civilian personnel systems, employees and annuitants.”

The legislation describes additional responsibilities for OPM, which include providing agencies access to relevant human capital data, establishing an effective and efficient oversight program in support of merit system principles and developing “current and forward-looking approaches for human capital capital management.”

The bill specifies that the president should appoint an OPM director without regard to political affiliation. The director should have “demonstrated human capital expertise and management and leadership experience,” according to the legislation.

The legislation would require the president to provide written, advance notice to Congress of any plans to remove the OPM director or deputy director.

The bill also codifies the role of the OPM chief management officer and specifies that a career member of the Senior Executive Service should serve in the position. Career federal employees have typically filled this role in the past, and OPM’s current chief management officer is a long-time career executive.

NAPA, however, recommended Congress clearly define the position and its responsibilities.

Finally, Connolly’s bill would create a new OPM Advisory Council on Human Capital, fulfilling another academy recommendation.

This new advisory council would recommend strategies for making the federal government “an employer of choice,” as well as approaches for recruiting, hiring and retaining qualified talent and supporting a “diverse, trusted and effective federal workforce,” the legislation reads.

It would be up to the OPM director to appoint no more than 15 members to the council. Members should have experience in government, academia, or the private sector or non-profit space, according to the legislation. Members might also come from federal labor unions and employee groups and the Chief Human Capital Officers Council.

The new advisory council should meet at least two times a year with an opportunity to hear public comments. The legislation also requires an annual report from the new council, which should describe any recommendations members made during the previous year.

Connolly’s bill doesn’t tackle all of the recommendations NAPA made to Congress. The legislation, for example, doesn’t make any statutory changes to OPM’s oversight role, which the academy suggested. It also doesn’t create new congressional oversight committees solely dedicated to human capital issues in the executive branch, and it doesn’t contemplate changes that would resolve OPM’s funding challenges.

The National Treasury Employees Union, National Federation of Federal Employees, the Partnership for Public Service and the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association have all endorsed the legislation.

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