OPM joins GSA’s Centers of Excellence initiative to modernize IT systems, advance merger

The Office of Personnel Management will begin using the General Services Administration’s Centers of Excellence initiative to begin a concerted effort to modernize the agency’s IT systems, GSA announced Friday.

The two agencies will sign a series of inter-agency agreement to begin the sprint-based discovery phase to improve OPM’s legacy IT and infrastructure systems.

The partnership is not only a new attempt to modernize some of OPM’s legacy IT systems but also part of the Trump administration’s efforts to advance its proposed merger with GSA without legislation.

“The time to address structural changes at OPM is now, and GSA is helping us meet the needs of the federal workforce,” acting OPM Director Margaret Weichert said Friday in a statement. “Aging IT infrastructure at OPM has put the agency in an unsustainable position and hurt OPM’s critical human capital mission. By partnering with GSA — a proven leader in federal IT and technology contracting — through the CoEs, we are taking steps toward long-overdue transformation in OPM’s IT infrastructure and operations.”

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The CoE and GSA IT teams will focus on OPM’s IT workforce planning, overall IT planning and governance, mainframe and disaster recovery planning, and the retirement services technology portfolio.

OPM is the third agency to use GSA’s CoE initiative. The Agriculture Department was the first to use the CoE model back in December 2017, with the Department of Housing and Urban Development taking part last September.

OPM’s IT challenges, as well as its financial situation as the National Background Investigations Bureau moves to DoD in the coming months, are two reasons the Trump administration has given in recent weeks for the merger.

“GSA has a B+ on its FITARA scorecard. OPM does not,” Michael Rigas, OPM’s deputy director, said Thursday morning at a Government Executive event in Washington. “OPM has done a great job in terms of securing its IT infrastructure, but it’s still really old. We need to be able to move to the 21st century on IT infrastructure and allow the agency to focus on its core mission, which is human capital.”

GSA in March released a request for quotation for phase one of its Center of Excellence discovery services — an effort to lay groundwork for future CoEs at other agencies.

“GSA is proud of the success that has been demonstrated by our Centers of Excellence initiatives at both USDA and HUD,” Administrator Emily Murphy said in a statement. “We are excited to begin the CoE discovery phase with OPM and leverage the expertise of our GSA IT team as we work with OPM to modernize their IT capabilities.”

Weichert on Tuesday told reporters the administration was considering ways it could advance the proposed OPM-GSA merger without legislation. Using the Centers of Excellence initiative was one way she said the administration would use inter-agency agreements and other delegation authorities to have GSA manage more of OPM’s systems and activities.

Other partnerships between OPM and GSA may be on the horizon.

“There are other elements that we’re looking at, [including] GSA authorities under Title 40 and then other outsourcing opportunities that might be related to economy-transactions or what we would call joint venture actions,” Weichert said Tuesday. “GSA provides fee-for-service support to other agencies, as does OPM. We actually believe there’s some real opportunities in the space [management] arena. … We believe combining GSA’s skills around real property with OPM’s skills around people could create some new opportunities.”

The Trump administration needs legislation, however, to merge the biggest pieces of OPM to GSA.

The Office of Management and Budget on Thursday evening sent its legislative proposal for the merger to lawmakers. The proposal suggests transferring most existing roles, responsibilities and authorities for the OPM director to the GSA administrator. The OPM director would lead a new “national service” within GSA and would oversee federal health, retirement and insurance, as well as other human resources and employee services.

Rulemaking and delegating authority for the OPM director, however, would go to OMB.

Members of Congress are reviewing the administration’s proposal ahead of a hearing on the OPM-GSA merger scheduled for Tuesday.

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