Following NAPA study, OPM details broad plans to chart a new course

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The Office of Personnel Management has a broad plan to reinvigorate the agency and implement a lengthy series of recommendations from the National Academy of Public Administration, which made the case back in March that the federal government’s human capital enterprise needed “urgent attention.”

OPM accepted or conditionally accepted nearly all recommendations from the academy. It had six months to respond to NAPA’s report and submit its findings and plans to Congress, which it did on Monday.

A steering committee of OPM senior officials, along with seven working groups of agency staff, analyzed the NAPA recommendations and developed ways to respond to them. The agency also solicited feedback from the Office of Management and Budget, General Services Administration and its customer agencies, OPM said.

The groups met multiple times to develop “scenario-based action plans,” which detail the actions, owners and resources needed to implement NAPA’s recommendations, OPM said.

Those details informed OPM’s new, four-strategic plan, as well as a series of high-level estimates of resources the agency believes are necessary to carry out the recommendations.

“The NAPA study unequivocally affirms the need for a strong, independent, and well-resourced OPM,” Kiran Ahuja, the agency’s director, said Monday in a statement. “Our response demonstrates our broad agreement and deep engagement with the study’s findings, as well as our commitment to many of the policy changes and financial investments it lays out for OPM to continue serving as the one, indispensable partner for federal agencies and their strategic human capital needs.”

“Taken together, the NAPA study and our response demonstrate a clear path for OPM to deliver on its charge, now and well into the future,” she added.

OPM “firmly agrees” with the role NAPA described in its report, one where it serves as an independent, forward-leaning human capital agency and steward of merit system principles.

In some cases, OPM said it’s already begun to implement the academy’s recommendations.

NAPA, for example, recommended a stronger role for the Chief Human Capital Officers Council, whose influence had fallen by the wayside during the confusion over the previous administration’s proposed OPM-GSA merger.

OPM reassumed control over the council and reinstated monthly meetings earlier this year. It also created an executive committee as a way to strengthen the panel, and CHCOs have formed working groups on the future of work, diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility — and the council’s organization, the agency said Monday.

OPM is also currently assessing its own internal capacity, with the goal of potentially reorganizing the agency to better implement its four-year strategic vision. That four-year strategic plan will go into effect in October, OPM said, and it details several ways the agency will respond to and act on several NAPA recommendations.

For example, the agency is “addressing organizational culture issues and silos — in particular, the widely held perception of customers that OPM’s mantra is ‘just say no,'” the response to Congress reads.

OPM is also expanding and prioritizing its role in conducting more human capital management research and collecting better data about the federal workforce, among other things.

Implementing other NAPA recommendations, however, will take resources and attention from Congress.

The agency, for example, detailed a broad vision for modernizing its IT, which includes everything from expanding the quality of federal human capital data and improving retirement customer service, to transforming USAJobs.gov and moving the OPM website to a cloud-hosted platform.

OPM categorized IT modernization resources as a “very high” investment, which it estimated at $50 million or more over a two-year period. The agency also wants to establish an IT working capital fund and tap into resources from the Technology Modernization Fund to begin certain investments, OPM said.

The agency also agreed it should offer more training, policy interpretation and other programs to its customers free of charge, another NAPA recommendation.

The agency said it envisions a “seamless customer and intermediary experience across OPM’s policy, service, and oversight functions.” It wants to offer a variety of strategic technical assistance, consulting and other services to help agencies best interpret and implement the workforce policies that it issues.

But because OPM partly relies on the service fees it receives today, the agency will need additional appropriations to supplant lost revenue, the report said. OPM does offer some services at no cost today.

To expand those free service offerings, OPM estimated a “moderate to high” investment of $10-to-20 million over a two-year period.

Notably, OPM also agreed it might be wise to give individual agencies more authority over their own personnel transactions. NAPA recommended giving agencies control over things like dual compensation waivers and early retirement approvals, as examples.

OPM could give up control over some transactional activities, the agency said, but perhaps not all of them. Doing so may free up OPM to adopt more of a “trust but verify” approach, where it delegates specific low-risk activities to others and checks that agencies are using those authorities properly on a regular basis.

“OPM also believes that Congress should grant OPM the authority to delegate these authorities rather than directly delegate to the agencies via legislation so that OPM retains oversight responsibility to maintain a consistent governmentwide approach,” the response to Congress reads.

NAPA directed a handful of recommendations to Congress itself. It suggested, for example, that House and Senate oversight committees reestablish specific civil service subcommittees to keep better tabs on the federal workforce.

It also recommended Congress make certain statutory updates to modernize the OPM mission statement and work with the agency to secure new funding streams and other investments.

House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Government Operations Subcommittee Chairman Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) didn’t comment on specific NAPA recommendations and OPM’s plans for implementing them. They did, however, express support for the agency.

“Today’s OPM report shows that OPM and the Biden administration are dedicated to its federal workforce,” Connolly said in a statement. “We look forward to partnering with OPM and the administration to rebuild OPM and design the workforce we need to serve this nation.”

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