It’s time for the Senate to confirm a permanent OPM director. Here’s why.
The Office of Personnel Management is critical to building a top-flight federal workforce that serves the American people and responds to the challenges of today and tomorrow. However for much of the past decade, OPM has lacked a permanent director, hampering its ability to support the 2 million public servants who work in government. To fill this void, the full Senate should act quickly on the nomination of Kiran Ahuja to serve as the agency’s new leader.
As our government’s chief human resources agency, OPM enables federal employees and agencies to work better. The agency implements many of the laws that apply to federal personnel; manages USAJOBS, the government’s official job site; implements internship, job and fellowship programs that recruit young people and advanced degree holders into government; and administers the annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, a critical tool that helps agencies build healthier workplaces. OPM also ensures federal HR offices uphold the merit system principles that protect the apolitical expertise of the career workforce and administers benefit programs provided to federal employees. All of these responsibilities foster competent, honest and productive government.
Providing OPM with a permanent director is especially important in our current moment. As agencies craft new return-to-work policies, OPM will need to issue clear guidelines on the slew of personnel and administrative challenges that will come with the shift to hybrid or remote work, such as determining locality pay scales, establishing proper safety protocols, developing new performance management strategies, employing innovative technology and more. OPM can help agencies navigate these unprecedented challenges—but it needs leadership to do so effectively.
Unfortunately, stable leadership has been lacking at the agency for quite some time. A Senate-confirmed OPM director has not served a full four-year term since 2013. The office has had just three confirmed directors since then and two of them served less than eight months. All told, OPM has had a confirmed leader for only six months of the past 2½ years. Acting officials have filled the breach—temporary leaders who, though experienced, are ill-positioned to develop long-term policies and lack the perceived authority of Senate-confirmed appointees. And some acting OPM directors have been dual-hatted in other Senate-confirmed positions, straining their ability to give OPM the full attention needed.
This leadership void has had a ripple effect across government. Skills gaps caused by a lack of staff, training programs and other aspects of workforce planning have contributed to roughly two-thirds of all the areas that landed on the Government Accountability Office’s 2021 “High-Risk List,” a biennial inventory of federal programs and operations in need of major reform. Tellingly, human capital strategy has been on the list since 2001.
For these reasons, it is critical that the Senate move swiftly to confirm Kiran Ahuja as OPM director. She is an experienced and dedicated public servant with more than two decades of leadership experience in the nonprofit sector and in government. Her previous work as OPM’s chief of staff and transition team lead, and her commitment to strengthening OPM, make her well-qualified to direct the agency.
For years, OPM’s lack of permanent leadership has limited the agency’s ability to build a better government. It is time for the Senate to confirm President Biden’s nominee and provide OPM with the support it deserves to help federal employees solve our most pressing challenges.