First Look

OPM will reassume full control over CHCO Council, with efforts to elevate human capital group underway

One of the last remaining vestiges of the previous administration’s proposed merger of the Office of Personnel Management with the General Services Administration will soon dissolve.

The administrative resources and functions that support the Chief Human Capital Officers (CHCO) Council will return to OPM, after GSA held those responsibilities for more than a year.

Kiran Ahuja, the agency’s new director, made the announcement during Tuesday morning’s CHCO Council meeting, her first since taking on the top leadership role at OPM.

“I’m pleased that we are restoring these functions at OPM as part of our commitment to reinvigorating the CHCO Council,” Ahuja said in a statement. “The CHCO Council is an invaluable collaborative resource for OPM and the federal government. OPM is committed to partnering closely with CHCOs to help solve critical human capital management challenges that face our federal workforce, and I look forward to leading the council as we work to rebuild, strengthen and support the federal workforce.”

The staff, budget and administrative resources that supported the CHCO Council moved from OPM to GSA back in December 2019.

It was one of the few, albeit small, pieces of the OPM-GSA merger that the Trump administration was able to accomplish administratively and without congressional buy-in.

The merger itself has been dead in the water for some time now, with former OPM officials telling the workforce last year it would no longer spend time and resources pursuing it. The Biden administration strongly condemned the merger earlier this year, and current agency officials are determined to rebuild and reposition OPM as a more active leader in the federal community.

Those goals extend to the CHCO Council itself. OPM said Tuesday it wants to rebuild the council’s budget and staff and ramp up activity within the group, which have seen reductions in recent years.

The Biden administration named Margot Conrad, a longtime leader at the Partnership for Public Service, as the CHCO Council’s executive director earlier this year.

A new working group is helping Conrad review the CHCO Council’s operations, resources, membership and connections with other cross-agency councils.

That group, co-led by Interior CHCO Raymond Limon, is also proposing changes to the council’s charter, which hasn’t been updated since the group’s creation in 2003, OPM said.

“Employees perform the best when they have the resources they need, the autonomy to innovate and the respect of their leaders and their peers,” said Limon, whom the president tapped recently to serve as a member on the Merit Systems Protection Board. “For CHCOs, there is no better forum than the CHCO Council where we can promote and recommend policies based on our collective experiences and provide feedback to leaders in the executive and legislative branches. We are glad that OPM is actively rebuilding the council and believe this will be aided by the consolidation of CHCO Council operations and leadership under OPM.”

The Trump administration itself considered moving CHCO Council resources back to OPM near the end of the presidency, sources familiar with the discussions told Federal News Network, but the transfer never happened.

While the administrative resources and support staff for the CHCO Council resided at GSA, the OPM director was — and remains today — the statutory chairman of the group. That arrangement created some administrative challenges for OPM and the council.

“GSA has enjoyed working with and supporting the CHCO Council these past few years, and we are supportive of reuniting strategic and administrative functions of the CHCO Council,” GSA Deputy Administrator Katy Kale said in a statement. “We look forward to building upon our partnership with OPM in other ways as we continue to serve the federal workforce together.”

OPM’s inspector general raised concerns last year about the transfer and process used to move employees from the agency to GSA.

At the time, the IG said OPM hadn’t conducted an analysis of the costs associated with the CHCO Council workforce restructuring, which involved removing employees from their OPM positions and appointing them to new jobs non-competitively at GSA. The method for moving those employees created uncertainty for the staff, the IG said, because there was no guarantee they would continue to perform their same job functions once they got to GSA.

It’s unclear whether those same employees are in a position to return to OPM, but the agency is hiring additional staff to support the CHCO Council.

The effort to refocus and recharter the CHCO Council comes after the National Academy of Public Administration suggested the group was an underutilized resource for OPM. Its approach with the council ultimately limited its effectiveness for both OPM and agency participants, NAPA said.

During the early months of the pandemic, the council stopped meeting for a period of time with the OPM director as the chairman, the academy said. Agencies began to meet on their own without OPM at all, though meetings eventually resumed last year.

The CHCO Council has been meeting monthly since February, OPM said, and staff have hosted nine other briefings for the broader community on recent executive orders, policy guidance and other topics.

The council also formed additional working groups, which are working on diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility issues, as well as pandemic reentry plans and other workforce policies, OPM said.

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