The curse of the OPM director

If federal agencies were listed on the New York Stock Exchange would you buy or sell your shares in the Office of Personnel Management?

OPM is the central government personnel office. It handles and interprets civil service rules and regulations, job standards, health and life insurance for feds and family members and manages the massive federal retirement program for several million people. Program participants range from retired astronauts and letter carriers, to CIA agents, career diplomats and their survivors. It’s a small agency but a very big deal.

Unlike many other federal agencies, most of OPM’s staff is based in the Washington, D.C. area. While vital to federal workers and retirees OPM doesn’t have much name recognition beyond the Beltway. Before its name change during the Carter administration it was the Civil Service Commission.

In addition to wondering why you had OPM stock in the first place, when you had the choice of fun places like NASA or the National Security Agency, or proven money-makers such as the IRS or Federal Insurance Deposit Corporation, the question would be whether this is the time to sell OPM stock while it has any value. Or should you buy more in hopes it has nowhere to go but up?

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After just 7 months on the job Jeff Pon disappeared from the radar late Friday, Oct. 5, before Columbus Day weekend. It could be a coincidence, or the classic Washington way to bury a story, or person, so it would get minimal media coverage. Folks are still speculating whether he resigned or if somebody resigned for him, as been known to happen before.

The Washington Examiner headline said “‘Swamp drainer’ Jeff Pon resigns abruptly as OPM director, leaving behind ambitious agenda.”

The Washington Post saw it differently, saying “Trump replaces federal personnel director, in job only a few months, with OMB official.”

Whomever is correct, all sides seem to agree it was abrupt. The agency’s email system was down — conspiracy or coincidence — and the new acting OPM Director Margaret Weichert still holds her original job at the very powerful Office of Management and Budget. Shortly after the news of Pon’s departure leaked out,  OPM’s web page with his biography redirected to this:

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A veteran of both the OMB and OPM speculated that the Trump administration may have decided that even with his extensive background in Human Resources, it needed somebody with more experience in getting things through the bureaucratic-legislative mine fields. She said many functions now performed by OPM could be done, better, by the General Services Administration and others could also be done better by turning them over to private contractors.

But a long-time senior career executive disagreed. “Splitting OPM up requires congressional approval and Congress doesn’t seem inclined to approve it. About Human Resource Services going to GSA, I don’t know that GSA has the expertise to manage it. They manage buildings, not people!” he said.

Some people think the top job at OPM is jinxed. In May 2017 the White House nominated George Nesterczuk to run the personnel agency.  He had congressional experience, and held top jobs at OPM during the Reagan administration. He also helped setup the Defense Department’s pay for performance system. But despite his credentials and background the nomination languished for months and he withdrew his name from consideration.

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Amelia Brust

Emily Dickinson’s poetry and personal letters were first published by her brother’s mistress, the writer Mabel Loomis Todd. A land dispute between the Todds and the Dickinsons led to the families severing ties and Mabel Todd locked away a mass of unpublished material for more than 30 years.

Source: Emily Dickinson Museum

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