WASHINGTON – Today, the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability held a hearing titled “Oversight of Our Nation’s Largest Employer: Reviewing the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.”At the heaWASHINGTON – Today, the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability held a hearing titled “Oversight of Our Nation’s Largest Employer: Reviewing the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.”At the hearing, members pressed U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Director Kiran Ahuja on steps the agency is taking to improve its operations and better serve the American people. Members highlighted how Americans have struggled to acquire basic services because of the federal government’s enhanced telework policies and delayed response times. They also outlined how OPM has failed to prevent waste of taxpayer funds. The Oversight Committee will work to ensure OPM is meeting its mission and responsibly stewarding taxpayer funds.
OPM is responsible for human resources and personnel management for a taxpayer-funded workforce of over two million federal workers and administers over a trillion dollars in healthcare, insurance, and retirement benefits.
OPM Director Ahuja could not answer basic questions about the percentage of the federal workforce teleworking or working remotely. Enhanced telework policies have hindered the federal government’s ability to provide basic services to the American people and created extensive backlogs.
OPM has wasted taxpayer dollars by failing to prevent improper payments in the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) program. The agency needs to make improvements to protect taxpayer funds.
OPM must strengthen the federal government’s hiring and dismissal practices to ensure it recruits talented workers and holds poor performers accountable.
Oversight over OPM policies and operations is needed to ensure that the federal workforce is meeting its missions, reducing backlogs, protecting taxpayer dollars, and providing prompt service to all Americans.
Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) emphasized that OPM policies must put the American people first. He noted that the agency has not utilized taxpayer dollars efficiently and has failed to prevent improper payments in the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) program.
Chairman Comer: “Recent reports have highlighted how lack of oversight in programs, such as the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program, have led to ineligible payments of between $1 and $3 billion annually… We have a moral responsibility to be good stewards of federal resources and to provide the best standard of service possible for the American public. We must work to ensure that the federal workforce can attract talented, service-minded Americans who work diligently and efficiently to deliver results for the American people.
Chairman Comer also stated his concern that Congress wasn’t made aware of the wasted taxpayer dollars. He also highlighted the importance of his legislation, the SHOW UP Act, which requires federal workers to return to pre-pandemic telework levels so that government agencies can best serve the American people.
Chairman Comer: “We have to answer to our constituents. This is a big issue for this Committee.”
Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) emphasized that the Biden Adminsitration’s enhanced telework policies hindered OPM’s ability to fulfill its mission. He highlighted how Americans are now suffering from a taxpayer-funded federal government that doesn’t provide services in a timely manner.
Rep. Sessions: “This is not an attack against a group of peple that work for the government. It’s a direct conversation with people who make a determination about who is going to come to work. The circumstances of making sure the Amsreican people receive the things their taxes have paid for and that is a timely relationship with the federal government and agencies”
“The federal government is not at work. The federal government is not producing the results we think would be necessary. Forget going to the passport office… try doing business with the IRS. OPM is taking advantage of the American people. We respect this workforce… but coming to work is a critical part… More people are on telework than are actually allowed by the guidelines.”
Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) highlighted that his constituents, particularly retirees, in Arizona have directly reached out to his office reagrding OPM’s slow operations. He stressed that many of their inquiries to OPM go unresolved and retirees are left feeling helpless. He concluded that OPM must be transparent about steps they’re taking to improve their response times.
Rep. Biggs:“When retirees contact their members of congress, our staff is directed to submit casework to a congressional portal which might as well be a blackbox. Requests for updates on actual cases by email and phone go unreturned and our constituents feel like no one can help them.”
Ms. Ahuja: “We have had challenges and we absolutely can do better. We are working through those processes… I made a commitment to focus on retiurement services.”
Rep. Biggs: “I would just say that I did not hear specifics about how you are going to solve this. These individuals who have retired have given their life service to this country. They deserve an immediate response… We are going to have to get more direct answers.”
Rep. Pat Fallon (R-Texas) noted how it is increasingly difficult to hold federal workers accountable for poor performance and remove them from their position.
Rep. Fallon: “It’s so hard to let them go… that’s the reality on the ground. That’s what concerns me. Whether it’s the private sector or the public sector, there is going to be folks who do not perform well, don’t really belong there, and don’t deserve to be there. But there doesn’t seem to be any way where we can realistically remove them. Do you have any idea how many federal employees were fired last year out of 2.1 million?”
Ms. Ahuja: “I don’t have those specifcs.”
Rep. Fallon: “We will formally request that.”
Rep. Anna Paulina Luna (R-Fla.) highlighted that OPM leadership needs to ensure that the federal government’s hiring practices remove job candidates who have track records of workplace harassment and inappropriate conduct. She noted that multiple individuals recently hired by OPM have been found to have engaged in toxic workplace behavior.
Rep. Luna:“How long does it take for these people to get fired? In my opinion, if I found this in my office, if you were making sexual or racial comments… you’d be fired immediately. These people seem to just get a slap on the wrist and that’s it… To me these are not qualifications of someone we need to be giving a government job to, potentially in a senior position, who could exploit their position of power.”
Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) emphasized that all federal workers, regardless of whether you are a State Department employee or a Border Patrol agent, should be held to the same standard and required to report to the office in-person. He also noted that OPM needs to keep updated data on how many current employees are actually showing up to the office.
Rep. Donalds:“You are head of OPM. You are head of all personnel management. You should be knowing who is in and out of the office at a minimum of a month to month basis… Do you think federal employees should be back according to pre-pandemic protocols?”
Ms. Ahuja: “It is a more complicated question…”
Rep. Donalds:“That’s not complicated at all. People have got to show up to work.”
Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) emphasized that the federal government has failed American taxpayers and stressed that OPM has a responsibility to ensure federal employees are performing expected tasks.
Rep. Boebert:“The federal government has somehow gotten even worse at serving American taxpayers. Backlogs in case management, lengthy response times… these are issues I deal with on a regular basis with my constitutents. Even veterans are struggling to access lifesaving medical care.”
Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) made it clear that OPM leadership must provide Congress basic facts about federal employee office attendance.
Rep. Mace:“You can’t or won’t answer questions related to how many workers are at home. You are the Director of OPM… you can’t even tell us any basic data. Why are you here if you can’t even answer our questions? You won’t answer questions about bargaining agreements… You oversee federal employees and you can’t answer basic questions that taxpayers on both sides of the aisle deserve to hear. Do you think American taxpayers, who sign your paycheck, deserve to know how many people aren’t showing up to work?”
Ms. Ahuja: “Our employees show up every day…”
Rep. Mace:“No they do not. The data backs that up.”
Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) highlighted her concerns with new OPM programs that are ripe for waste, fraud, and abuse of taxpayer funds. She noted that the lack of oversight in similar programs, such as the FEHB program, has cost taxpayers billions of dollars.
Rep. Foxx:“As this Committee knows all too well, new programs must have proper oversight and safeguards in place so they do not become rife with waste, fraud, and abuse. The Government Accountability Office recently highlighted significant concerns in FEHB enrollments… Improvements need to be made.”
CLICK HERE to watch the hearing.