A recent string of reorganizations and the launch of a new human capital data group within the Office of Personnel Management are drawing skepticism among employees and its union.
OPM officially reorganized a few dozen of its employees earlier this week into a new Human Capital Data Management and Modernization Directorate, which the agency announced Tuesday afternoon.
But the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents parts of the OPM workforce, said it sees these moves as a back-door effort to advance the Trump administration’s desired merger with the General Services Administration — and slowly strip away more responsibilities from the human resources agency.
OPM merged its federal data solutions group, a former component of the agency’s Office of the Chief Information Officer, to the HR Line of Business, which it renamed as the new Human Capital Data Management and Modernization Directorate.
Some functions within OPM’s Office of Strategy and Innovation, which is perhaps most known for administering the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, were also redistributed. The office’s data analysis group, for example, moved to the new human capital data directorate.
The agency said the new directororate will allow OPM to better manage federal human capital data and “facilitate insightful decision-making” across the workforce.
“Standing up the Human Capital Data Management and Modernization Directorate provides agencies with greatly improved access to the human capital management data needed to support their missions for the American people by promoting IT modernization, data accountability and transparency and the workforce of the future,” Michael Rigas, OPM’s acting director, said Tuesday in a press release.
A separate data strategic analysis group within the Office of Strategy and Innovation will move to the agency’s employee services and strategic workforce planning office, according to OPM’s notice to the union.
The reorganizations were effective Aug. 2.
In its July 24 notice to AFGE, the agency gave several reasons for the realignments.
Redistributing these functions, OPM said, will “consolidate critical technology needs,” and “leverage federal and contractor support to the most critical needed areas related to federal employee data.”
The moves will also “eliminate the need for OCIO to serve as a human capital/HR policy expert regarding federal employee data,” and instead shift those responsibilities to one group, which will handle all policy, standard setting, collection and analysis activities for OPM’s federal employee datasets, a system known as the Enterprise Human Resources Integration-Statistical Data Mart (EHRI-SDM).
Before, those functions were scattered across three OPM groups embedded within two agency support offices.
In its notice to the union, OPM said these reorganizations should have little direct impact on employees.
“The reorganization will not result in a change of conditions of employment for bargaining unit employees and to the extent to which there is a change, any such change will be de minimis,” Anne Mortensen, an OPM employee and labor relations manager, said in the July 24 memo to the union. “Employees will remain on the same position descriptions and under the same performance standards. As the new organizations commence their work, employees may receive some new assignments consistent with their current duties and consistent with their performance standards and position descriptions.”
AFGE, however, said these moves will have an impact on the employees and their daily work. The union said some employees will be placed in a working group with employees from the General Services Administration. Marlo Bryant-Cunningham, president of AFGE Local 32, said the employees may be working with the General Services Administration on the agency’s New Pay initiative.
A GSA data strategist who spent part of his career at OPM may supervise the working group, Bryant-Cunningham said.
OPM declined to answer specific questions about the realigned employees and their new roles, responsibilities and any potential interaction with GSA. Its communication to the union is consistent with the terms of the OPM-AFGE collective bargaining agreement, the agency said.
“All organizational changes are internal within OPM,” an agency spokesperson said in an email to Federal News Network. “No OPM federal employees will be reporting to GSA or other external officials.”
The reorganization affects at least 22 OPM bargaining unit employees, according to the agency’s July 24 notice to the union.
But Bryant-Cunningham said the agency’s count doesn’t include the vacant positions in these units. She estimated one of the impacted units had 10-to-12 open positions, though it’s unclear if or when the agency will fill them, she said.
The union submitted a demand to bargain on July 28, and the agency rejected it three days later. In denying AFGE’s demand, OPM said it doesn’t need to bargain because the parties’ collective bargaining agreement addressed reorganization issues.
“Changes in organizational affiliation and supervisory structure alone do not constitute changes to conditions of employment for the purpose of generating a duty to bargain,” Mortensen wrote in OPM’s response to the union. “Likewise, individual supervisory decisions relating to subjects such as work assignments, work schedules and telework are not subject to bargaining and are not proper subjects for union involvement.”
Union says recent realignments are part of broader merger effort
At the very least, recent employee realignments have prompted confusion and concern in the workforce, Bryant-Cunningham said.
She said impacted employees learned of the reorganization from AFGE, not the agency. Employees called and texted her on Monday to express confusion about their work assignments and bewilderment as to why they were receiving emails from their co-workers claiming to be their new acting supervisors.
Many of the employees who have been reorganized are Black GS-13s and 14s who are close to retirement age, Bryant-Cunningham said. Some are considering retiring early, she said.
“You see you’re being pushed out,” she said of the realignments. “We’re supposed to be leading the federal government in how human resources are done, and it’s not happening at OPM. Everything is political.”
The sheer uncertainty of the OPM-GSA merger has also driven some career employees and executives to retire or leave for other agencies.
Employees see political appointees scooping up leadership positions that previously went to career executives, Bryant-Cunningham said. Federal News Network reported on two such moves earlier this year. Sara Ratcliff, a former CHCO Council executive director, now leads OPM’s HR Solutions shop, and Dennis Kirk, the president’s pick to lead the Merit Systems Protection Board, is in charge of a key policy office.
Kirk’s nomination before the MSPB has been pending for more than a year.
Though AFGE believes the latest realignments are part of a piecemeal effort to shift more work and responsibility out of the agency, the impacted employees are still part of OPM, not GSA.
The realignments differ from the transfer of a few OPM employees to the General Services Administration, which the agencies carried out back in December. Those employees supported the Chief Human Capital Officers Council, which GSA now operates.
Still, Bryant-Cunningham said employees see the realignments as another way to force them out.
“OPM employees can’t get a fair shake,” she said. “We can’t get help from OPM. We can’t get help from Congress, even though we did get some help from Congress.”
The OPM-GSA merger is technically on hold, pending a congressionally-mandated study of OPM and its statutory functions from the National Academy of Public Administration.
The administration has continued to express a desire to see the merger move forward. It included a $70 million request for the merger in the president’s 2021 budget request.
As Federal News Network previously reported, GSA is planning to take over the management of at least one of OPM’s buildings, following a request last summer from Margaret Weichert, then acting director and deputy director for management at OMB.
And in a statement expressing its intention to veto a House-passed minibus of 2021 spending bills, the Trump administration said it opposed the provisions designed to both prohibit the OPM-GSA merger and prevent inter-agency agreements between the agencies.
“The administration continues to stress the need for structural and organizational reform at OPM, and strongly opposes the inclusion of language in sections … of the bill,” the statement reads. “Legislative and administrative reforms are needed to better align resources with the agency’s mission and create long-term stability, sustainability and increased operational excellence.”