The Office of Personnel Management is telling agencies how to prepare for an upcoming government reorganization.
Agency heads are receiving new guidelines for workforce reshaping, as well as an update to OPM’s guidance for issuing and implementing administrative furloughs.
“OPM is issuing this Workforce Reshaping Operations Handbook to provide assistance to agencies that are considering and/or undergoing some type of reshaping (e.g., reorganization, management directed reassignments, furlough, transfer of function, reduction in force),” the reshaping guide said.
This comes a few weeks after President Donald Trump signed an executive order asking that agencies analyze their components, offices, programs and efforts in preparation for a major reorganization.
If the President gets his way in the upcoming budget cycle, many civilian agencies will face significant spending cuts in fiscal 2018, which will ultimately drive workforce reductions.
The workforce reshaping guide, which Federal News Radio obtained, describes in great detail how agency leaders should “develop, review, analyze and prioritize mission requirements.”
The handbook is designed to help agency heads and human resources offices with options and specific procedures “to ensure that reshaping efforts comply with merit system laws and regulations,” OPM said.
OPM asks agency heads to consider the timing and scope of reorganization efforts, in addition to their communication capabilities and labor-management relationships.
“Does management need to reduce whole numbers as in ‘across the board cuts,’ or is there the possibility of reshaping specific functions within the organization? There is typically less disruption to an organization when specific functions are reshaped than when entire operations are closed,” OPM wrote.
Agencies so far have few answers to these questions. The President’s budget proposal is merely a request, and agencies should have an opportunity to defend their mission needs both before OMB as it considers government reorganization and before congressional appropriations committees in preparing for the 2018 budget.
The budget blueprint, which the White House released last week, makes no mention of specific reductions in force, furloughs or job cuts.
But the details included in OPM’s guides reinforce why agencies need to begin planning now for any workforce cuts they may need to make in the future, said Jeff Neal, senior vice president for ICF and a former chief human capital officer for the Homeland Security Department.
“There is simply not enough time to get ready for a [reduction-in-force] if they wait until a budget is passed,” he said. “Agencies that begin to plan for RIF now, even without firm budget numbers, are not abandoning their employees. Quite the opposite is true: They are ensuring any RIF they may have … protects the rights of all of their employees.”
OPM also offers several alternatives to RIFs. It suggests that agencies consider detailing employees to other departments on a reimbursable basis, using furloughs and reassigning employees in “surplus functions” to other positions.
It also suggests cutting employee hours, asking employees to change to a lower grade on the General Schedule or using voluntary early retirement authorities.
If agencies do implement RIFs, they should work closely with the human resources office to set up a “RIF team,” OPM said.
In addition, OPM updated a second guide on administrative furloughs. It describes which types of employees are exempt from furloughs and under what circumstances. It also details a variety of employee scenarios and how agencies should approach the pay issue during furloughs.
Agencies last collectively experienced furloughs back in October 2013 when the government shut down for 16 days. Federal employees eventually received back pay for the time they were forced not to work. Some agencies also furloughed employees before that time due to sequester-related budget cuts.