White House

Getting rid of an agency isn’t easy

‘I would keep OPM,’ says Trump’s original pick

Virginia’s Mark Warner, left, and Tim Kaine are among the Democratic senators who worry that the president’s push to reorganize OPM could politicize the civil service. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Donald Trump’s plan to shutter the White House Office of Personnel Management has stirred opposition from employee unions and Democrats in Congress. It is also opposed by the first person Trump nominated to run the agency, George Nesterczuk.

Trump chose Nesterczuk in May 2017 to lead OPM, which oversees government pay, benefits and performance management, but Nesterczuk later withdrew under stiff opposition from the employee unions.

Nesterczuk had crossed them when he worked in George W. Bush’s administration rewriting personnel rules at the Pentagon. But on the future of OPM they are now in agreement, albeit for different reasons.

Trump wants to merge OPM with the General Services Administration, with OPM’s policy-making responsibilities going to a new office within the White House Office of Management and Budget. GSA oversees government facilities and has government-wide procurement responsibilities. OMB oversees the federal budget and monitors regulatory proposals from all agencies.

“I would keep OPM,” said Nesterczuk. “It’s the president’s arm as far as dealing with the civil service.”

Nesterczuk argues that “burying the policy aspects of OPM in OMB is nonsense” because he fears it means the management of workers — hiring, motivating, promoting, disciplining and firing — will get short shrift.

The unions’ concerns are different. Last month, American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. told a House Oversight and Reform subcommittee that he feared dismembering the agency could politicize the civil service and revive a spoils system in which government jobs go to the president’s party.

Democratic senators, whose votes are needed to consummate the reorganization, have raised a further concern. Last month, the four senators who represent the Washington area and its hundreds of thousands of federal workers, Virginia’s Mark Warner and Tim Kaine and Maryland’s Benjamin L. Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, wrote to OMB’s acting director, Russell Vought, to “express grave concern” the reorganization would undermine congressional oversight by placing OPM’s policy role under a political appointee who doesn’t need Senate confirmation.

The Senate is currently considering Trump’s pick to take charge at OPM, Dale Cabaniss. Trump dismissed the agency’s previous leader, Jeff Pon, last year after Pon reportedly objected to Trump’s plans for the agency. Arizona Democrat Kyrsten Sinema questioned Cabaniss about the planned reorganization at Cabaniss’ Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee confirmation hearing. Cabannis said she had not yet been briefed on the administration’s plans and acknowledged that she’d have to work with Congress to implement them. “I think the people, policy and programs of OPM have to continue,” she said. “It doesn’t matter where they sit.”

Notably, House appropriators are moving to block Trump’s plan.

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