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IG office lists IT, budget problems among agency’s challenges

Management challenges facing the Office of Personnel Management since before the proposal of a merger into the General Services Administration will continue to hamper the agency now that the merger is off, according to the agency’s Office of Inspector General.

The OPM IG lists four management challenges in the office’s new annual report; three of them relate to funding at the agency. The four challenges are a shortfall in OPM’s funding; the financial integrity of OPM’s trust funds; information technology challenges; and government-wide challenges.

The funding shortfall stems from moving the background investigation function from OPM to the Department of Defense in fiscal year 2020, Michael Esser, Assistant Inspector General for Audits at the Office of Inspector General at OPM, told “Government Matters.” “That led to a shortfall last year of approximately $70 million that OPM was able to make up by a buyback of services,” Esser explained. But it’s not clear that buyback will continue. “We believe it’s necessary for OPM … to put together a comprehensive budget request that covers all the areas OPM needs to fund appropriately, and work with [the Office of Management and Budget] and Congress to get that approved.”

The financial integrity of OPM’s trust fund is connected to the agency’s overall issues, Esser told “Government Matters.” “One example of that would be an issue related to the eligibility of enrollees in the [Federal Employee Health Benefit program]. There are fraudulent instances that we have identified of ineligible enrollees,” Esser said. “A central enrollment system would be a much improved process over what is in place now. OPM has a plan to do that; however, the funding has not been approved to move forward.”

The third challenge, information technology, is an area where OPM has seen improvement since the 2015 cyber breach that exposed personally identifiable information for millions of federal employees and applicants. But Esser said money is a challenge there too.

“There has certainly been significant movement forward, and progress, in securing data at OPM, and improving the processes that are used over IT security,” Esser said. “That has been a good thing. But what we have now is a situation where the funding for the CIO office, for example, has been less than it needs to be over the years.”

OPM’s fourth issue, government-wide challenges, is one it already has the tools to fix. “One of the challenges that we list in this year’s report is identifying the skills gaps, and moving forward to mitigate skills gaps in key function areas across government,” Esser said. “It is something that there’s a lot of data that OPM can take advantage of, and needs to do a little better job of doing that.”

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