By Ann Boehm, May 15, 2019

I’m an optimist. I just am. Perhaps that’s why I write a monthly column called “The Good News.” Being optimistic does not always make me right about things, but somehow, I feel better trying to see the bright side.

What does this mean in the federal employment law world right now? It means I’m going to try to see the positive aspects of the President’s desire to abolish the Office of Personnel Management.

I spent 26 years working for the Federal government. I do remember a time, early in my career, when I would call OPM experts for advice and guidance. I remember being very impressed with their knowledge and the legitimate wisdom they imparted. I will also tell you that in the latter of those 26 years, I was not finding the same to be true with OPM.

Don’t get me wrong. OPM still does many things right, but it is failing greatly in the area of hiring federal employees. When I teach Federal managers how to handle problem employees, we always discuss that helping an employee improve can be vastly easier than trying to hire a new employee in the current morass of a system.

I personally dealt with OPM on a hiring matter right before I left the government. I was having difficulty filling an Employee Relations Specialist position. I went to OPM’s website to see if there was anything there that could help me. I was drawn to OPM’s hiring reform concept. I thought this was an initiative that would help creative managers bring in good people for jobs without being stuck in bureaucracy. I thought I could be that manager OPM would work with to show others how to hire more effectively. Boy was I wrong.

I wrote an email to the address on OPM’s website. Instead of getting some legitimate guidance from OPM, the OPM contact forwarded my email to the Human Resources Director for the Agency and indicated that I needed help. What OPM did not only failed to help me, but also embarrassed me with my Agency, just for trying to think outside the box.

How does this story apply to my optimism and the President’s intention to do away with OPM?  OPM is not helping Federal agencies the way it could and should. Reform attempts continue to fail. Is possible that dismantling the agency will eliminate the inadequacies? I’m going to be hopeful.

If there is no OPM, will agencies finally have more autonomy in hiring Federal employees? Can KSAs become a thing of the past? Can restrictive job series requirements disappear? In other words, can the Federal government move into the 21st century?

According to the President’s plan, existing OPM employees and offices will be moved to the General Services Administration or the Office of Management and Budget (background investigations are already on their way to the Department of Defense). I want to believe that if fresh eyes from other parts of government oversee OPM, the destructive personnel folklore and unreasonably bureaucratic aspects of OPM’s mission will be questioned and hopefully changed. It’s certainly possible that nothing will really change. And things could certainly get worse (the devil you know …). But the optimist in me believes that maybe, just maybe, if leadership from outside of OPM examines its practices, new ideas may actually move forward.

I told you. I’m an optimist. Here’s hoping!! Boehm@FELTG.com

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