Tensions flare over legacy tech in OPM back-to-office negotiations with staff
Staff at the Office of Personnel Management have raised concerns over the agency’s failure to implement department-wide file-sharing technology as they negotiate with management over ending telework, FedScoop has learned.
Agency sources speaking to FedScoop said the inability of certain staff to access casework files digitally had increased pressure from management to return to in-person work before federal facilities were ready to be reopened and before a union bargaining process was complete.
Such a return would not be necessary, according to sources, if the agency had implemented a universal digital system for sharing files across the agency.
“There has been no attempt to try to automate [systems] or comply with the Paperwork Reduction Act, so they can force people back to the office,” said one source.
The concerns were expressed as part of bargaining between OPM management and the American Federal Government Employees union over the return of staff to the office. AFGE has so far filed 13 unfair labor practice complaints against the agency.
While some employees at the department, such as those who work on appeals, are able to fully access casework through the cloud, others such as those within retirement services, must still process physical paperwork in person.
Because of the sensitive nature of OPM’s work — handling personnel affairs of current and former federal government employees — the length of time for which staff are allowed to remove files from agencies is tightly controlled.
At Retirement Services, OPM in recent days has reduced the length of time for which staff are able to remove files from five days to two days, which some agency staff say is intended to force employees back to the office.
It is understood that union leaders throughout the pandemic raised concerns about the failure of OPM to provide sufficient technology solutions to staff.
According to one source, some employees were forced to buy their own scanners, printers and paper in order to telework, and were not provided with work telephone numbers until the start of 2022.
Last week AFGE intervened after OPM Director Kiran Ahuja sent an email to staff saying they would return to an in-person work posture April 25.
In a statement last Monday, AFGE President Everett Kelley said the White House agency should “serve as a model agency” and continue collective bargaining to establish a date for staff to return to in-person work.
OPM did not respond to a request for comment.