Cabaniss quietly led the agency for six short months, where she reportedly butted heads with the Office of Management and Budget and White House staff over the Trump administration’s proposed OPM merger with the General Services Administration, multiple sources told Federal News Network.
And though OPM had initially taken the lead in distributing agency guidance on telework, leave and other workforce questions during the coronavirus pandemic, the agency has been largely sidelined within the last week. The Office of Management and Budget has taken over the drafting and release of the most recent telework guidance to the federal workforce.
Cabaniss inherited an agency in September that was plagued with low morale and relatively high turnover among longtime senior executives.
Meetings to discuss the OPM-GSA merger have continued throughout Cabannis’ short tenure, despite recent congressional language that specifically prohibited the assignment, transfer, transition, merging, or consolidation of OPM function to any other agency.
Cabaniss joined OPM back in September, replacing Margaret Weichert, who had served as the agency’s acting director and permanent deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget for nearly a year. Weichert, who was supposed to leave on March 13, is staying on at OMB for the short term, sources confirmed to Federal News Network. It’s unclear what the resignation of Cabaniss would mean for Weichert’s length of stay in government.
OPM has been without permanent leadership off and on during both the Trump and Obama administrations.
Cabaniss was the third person to lead the agency during the Trump administration. Her permanent predecessor, Jeff Pon, left suddenly in October 2018 after he too clashed with the administration over the OPM-GSA merger proposal.
Trump’s first pick to lead OPM, George Nesterczuk, never got a nomination hearing and withdrew his name from consideration because the vetting process took too long.
News of Cabaniss’ resignation on Tuesday was met with disappointment by federal employee groups and at least one member of Congress.
“At the very moment we need OPM to operate smoothly and efficiently, including expanding telework for all eligible workers and contractors, we are instead faced with uncertainty that threatens to paralyze this agency,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Government Operations Subcommittee, said Tuesday night in a statement.
Connolly has been a vocal critic of the administration’s proposed OPM-GSA merger.
With Cabaniss’ departure, it’s the second time OPM has lacked permanent leadership in the middle of an emergency, the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association said.
OPM was also without permanent leadership during the 35-day government shutdown last year.
“At a time when federal employees are on the front lines of a public health crisis, the federal community needs leadership,” Ken Thomas, NARFE national president, said. “As the nation grapples with the uncertainties facing us during this pandemic, federal employees are trying to protect both their families and our country. I am disappointed that the department responsible for keeping feds informed and out of harm’s way is again without a director.”