Congress

Senator blocks vote on Cobert's OPM nomination

Beth Cobert testifying before HSGAC Feb 4 2016

Acting Office of Personnel Management Director Beth Cobert's nomination to permanently head the agency has been stalled by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.).

The government's human resources agency will have to go a little longer without a permanent leader. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) announced on Feb. 25 that he was blocking a Senate vote on the nomination of Beth Cobert to lead the Office of Personnel Management. Cobert has been leading the agency on an acting basis since July 2015. Her predecessor, Katherine Archuleta, resigned in the fallout from the devastating hack on agency databases that resulted in the loss of about 22 million personnel records.

Vitter announced he would maintain his hold on Cobert's nomination until she fulfilled his request for information on what the senator calls "Washington's Obamacare exception." Vitter has a series of questions about how the U.S. Congress came to be classified as small businesses for the purposes of qualifying for insurance under the Affordable Care Act, while being labeled as a large employer for IRS purposes. (As an opponent of the health care law, Vitter is concerned that Congress received a special carve-out to allow staffers the same premium support subsidy as is available to all federal employees.)

Senate leadership in both parties had agreed to push Cobert's nomination through on a unanimous consent motion before Vitter's hold, according to the letter.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the chairman of the House Government Oversight Committee, had expressed concerns about Cobert's nomination because OPM was not sharing requested documents with his committee relevant to their oversight of the OPM hack. Chaffetz had also been seeking the resignation of OPM CIO Donna Seymour in the wake of the hack. Seymour stepped down earlier this week.

However, at a Feb. 25 hearing of the Oversight committee at which Cobert testified on the topic of security clearance adjudication, Chaffetz and Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) jointly called for Cobert's confirmation.

"I am saying it publicly,” Chaffetz said. "I will put it in writing. I believe Ms. Cobert has the right qualifications. I think the country and the office will be better off with her confirmation."

If confirmed, Cobert still faces the sticky issue -- raised by departing Inspector General Patrick McFarland -- about whether her service comports with the Federal Vacancies Reform Act. According to the agency IG, policies instituted by Cobert after her formal nomination to lead OPM may not be valid.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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