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Personnel Practices: OPM Can Improve Oversight and Transparency of Agencies' Hiring of Political Appointees into Career Federal Positions

GAO-23-105066 Published: Apr 27, 2023. Publicly Released: Apr 27, 2023.
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Fast Facts

The Office of Personnel Management reviews federal agency requests to hire current or recent political appointees for permanent career positions. OPM approved 129 of 187 such requests from Mar. 2016-Jan. 2021.

This process helps assure fair competition—free from political influence. But identifying which applicants are current or recent political appointees isn't always easy for agencies.

A new law requires OPM to maintain a public website with information on political appointees. We recommended that OPM look at how agencies could best use this information to better identify current or recent political appointees who apply for career positions.

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Highlights

What GAO Found

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) approved 129 of 187 agency requests to hire political appointees into permanent career positions from March 18, 2016, through January 20, 2021. OPM returned 26 requests that were not subject to its review or were withdrawn by the agency and denied the remaining 32. Agencies followed through and completed 125 such hires during this period, including 38 made without first obtaining OPM approval as required.

OPM has informed agencies that they must obtain its approval before hiring current or recent political appointees into career jobs. However, agency officials told GAO that it is sometimes difficult for agency staff to identify job applicants who were political appointees. Recent legislation requiring OPM to create an online listing of political appointees could help with this issue if OPM approaches this effort with agencies' information needs in mind.

OPM and Agency Procedures when Agencies Propose Hiring Current or Former Political Appointees into Career Positions

For requests OPM approved, GAO found that agencies generally followed proper procedures in making the selections. OPM denied 32 requests for varying reasons, such as agencies bypassing qualified veterans. GAO found gaps in documentation regarding supervisory reviews in certain cases, and OPM adjusted its review process to address these gaps.

OPM reported on political to career hiring as required by law. OPM also released redacted versions of these reports in response to Freedom of Information Act requests and plans to provide them on a public website but has encountered technical delays in doing so, which impede the public's access to the reports.

Why GAO Did This Study

Federal agencies must use appropriate authorities and follow proper procedures in hiring current or recent political appointees into career positions, including obtaining prior approval from OPM.

GAO was asked to provide information on political to career hires and examine the implementation and effectiveness of OPM's policies for reviewing them. This report examines, among other things, (1) appointments of current or recent political appointees to career positions; (2) OPM's procedures for reviewing agency requests to make such appointments; and (3) OPM's reporting to Congress on these appointments.

GAO obtained and corroborated OPM data on the number of proposed hires OPM reviewed and agencies intended to complete from March 18, 2016, through January 20, 2021. GAO also assessed OPM's reviews of all approved requests during the same period.

Recommendations

GAO is making three recommendations in this report, including that OPM (1) should examine how the public information on political appointees OPM is mandated to provide can be used by agencies to better identify political appointees and (2) should complete the remaining steps needed to ensure that reports to Congress on agency requests to appoint current or recent political appointees to career positions are included on its website. OPM generally agreed with GAO's recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Office of Personnel Management The Director of OPM should examine how the public information on political appointees OPM is mandated to provide under the PLUM Act can be used by agencies to better identify political appointees subject to OPM's pre-appointment reviews. (Recommendation 1)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Office of Personnel Management The Director of OPM should complete the remaining steps needed to ensure that, consistent with proactive disclosure requirements, reports to Congress on agency requests to appoint current or recent political appointees to career positions are included on OPM's website with other frequently requested records. (Recommendation 2)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Office of Personnel Management The Director of OPM should work with agencies to collect and disseminate information about the scope of its pre-appointment review authority, including information that identifies those agencies and positions that are not subject to OPM's authority. (Recommendation 3)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

Full Report

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Topics

Career positionsCivil serviceFederal hiringHuman capital managementMerit systemsPersonnel managementPersonnel practicesPolitical appointeesSenior Executive ServiceCompliance oversight