Lawmakers to Weichert: Are we sure OPM reorganization will fix agency IT problems?

Margaret Weichert speaks March 28, 2019, at the IT Modernization Summit presented by FedScoop. (FedScoop)

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The Office of Personnel Management’s top official has said the proposal to reorganize the agency will help it escape from a legacy IT environment that ultimately damages the agency’s mission. But Congress wants more proof that the consolidation of OPM services into the General Services Administration would actually work to fix these tech problems.

GSA is a good venue to fix OPM’s tech troubles because that agency is “great at hiring IT talent,” OPM acting Director Margaret Weichert told lawmakers at a hearing Tuesday. And GSA has procurement expertise too, “something that would help deeply,” she said.

But members of the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations didn’t seem too convinced by this logic. Lots of agencies are bad at IT, Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., pointed out. Should agencies like the Department of Veterans Affairs or Department of State be reorganized into GSA too?

The difference, Weichert argued, is that “IT is not getting in the way of the core mission” at those agencies. Old IT at the State Department may slow down diplomacy, for example, but it doesn’t stop it all together, she said. “Our core mission at OPM is fundamentally harmed,” she said, by old technology.

“And we can’t even start to look at some of the things that might get our [Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act] scorecard up, like cloud email, because we don’t have enough IT professionals with tech expertise to even evaluate some of the outsourcing opportunities that might get us out of this ditch,” she said.

OPM’s acting inspector general, Norbert Vint, who also testified at the hearing, sided with lawmakers in expressing concerns about whether the reorganization would actually solve the problems the administration claims it would. “Yes, I do have concerns,” he said. “We have not been given any analysis of any sort … that would support some of these decisions.”

All in all, members of the subcommittee complained, OPM and the administration just hasn’t provided enough information on why the reorganization is the best course of action, and what the impacts and effects of the action will be.

“We’ve got to have the basis” so that a reorganization “will seem reasonable,” Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton said. “We’re not just going to say ‘You want to reorganize? Go at it.'”

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General Services Administration (GSA), House Oversight and Reform Committee, legacy IT, Margaret Weichert, Office of Personnel Management (OPM)
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