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Government HR Head Quits, White House Issues Virus Updates (1)

March 18, 2020, 1:19 PMUpdated: March 18, 2020, 5:07 PM

Dale Cabaniss, head of the federal government’s central HR office, resigned suddenly Tuesday, leading to criticism that the administration’s response to the novel coronavirus pandemic has become disorderly.

The White House Office of Management and Budget the same day issued new guidance for agencies on responding to the crisis, including that agencies immediately move to “minimize face-to-face interactions.” Russell Vought, the acting OMB director, signed the memo, and has been providing guidance to agencies in Cabaniss’ place since March 12.

“The Trump administration’s mismanagement and political appointees have once again brought chaos to the federal workforce. At the very moment we need OPM to operate smoothly and efficiently, including expanding telework for all eligible workers and contractors, we are instead faced with uncertainty that threatens to paralyze this agency,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said in a statement.

The OPM is now without a Senate-confirmed chief at the same time that the U.S. is grappling with the federal government’s response to the pandemic. Unions representing about half of the nation’s 2 million civilian federal workers say that many agencies aren’t making telework readily available, even as the government scrambles to keep up.

Minimizing in-person interactions is especially important in “offices or sites where people may be gathering in close proximity or where highly vulnerable populations obtain services,” Vought said in the Covid-19 guidance issued Tuesday.

“Exceptions may be needed when continued operations and services are necessary to protect public health and safety, including law enforcement and criminal-justice functions. Non-mission-critical functions that cannot be performed remotely or that require in-person interactions may be postponed or significantly curtailed,” Vought wrote.

Cabaniss was confirmed as director of the Office of Personnel Management in September. Michael Rigas, the OPM deputy director, is now the acting head of the agency, an OPM spokesperson said.

The Trump administration, even before Cabaniss became the OPM chief, made it clear that it was looking to curb the agency’s influence. However, a proposal last year to move the OPM into the General Services Administration and create new federal workforce policymaking positions at the White House didn’t get any traction in Congress.

Cabaniss couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. The White House and its Office of Management and Budget didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

(Updated with additional reporting throughout.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Louis C. LaBrecque in Washington at llabrecque@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com; John Lauinger at jlauinger@bloomberglaw.com

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