Workforce

Kiran Ahuja tapped to lead OPM

Kiran Ahuja Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders 

Kiran Ahuja from her days as Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders

President Joe Biden will nominate former Obama administration official Kiran Ahuja to be the Director of the Office of Personnel Management.

Ahuja led the Biden transition team on OPM and she's an agency veteran. She served as OPM's chief of staff 2015 to 2017. She also served as executive director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the Obama White House. As part of that work, she led efforts to increase access to federal services for underserved communities of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Currently, she is working as the CEO of Philanthropy Northwest, a regional philanthropic network spanning six northwestern states. She has worked with the Biden team before, where she served as the lead for the OPM agency transition team.

Ahuja would be the first South Asian and first Asian American woman to lead the office.

Beth Cobert, who was named acting director at OPM in the wake of the massive hack of personnel records in 2015, had high praise for her former colleague.

"Her commitment to empowering the OPM workforce, expertise in federal human capital issues and track record of bringing people together to solve difficult problems makes her an excellent choice for this role who will hit the ground running on day one," Cobert said in a statement.

Unions and federal workforce boosters praised the pick.

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), who has a key role in oversight of federal workforce policy on the Government Operations Subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, said that Ahuja's "years of leadership experience and knowledge of OPM are much needed to rebuild an agency that was targeted for elimination in the last administration."

Everett Kelley, the national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said that Ahuja "brings a wealth of experience in federal personnel matters, and her record of advocacy on behalf of women of color is reason for us to be optimistic that she will make it a priority to reverse the previous administration’s active undermining of diversity and inclusion efforts across the government.

If confirmed, Ahuja faces the challenge of improving morale and stability at the agency, which was led by temporary appointments during much the Trump administration and which was slated to be merged into the General Services Administration.

Trump ousted his first Senate-confirmed leader, Jeff Tien Han Pon, in October 2018 over disagreements about the need for legislation to carry out the GSA-OPM merger. A second OPM chief, Dale Cabaniss, retired abruptly in March 2020, amid reports she was waging a losing turf war with John McEntee, head of the White House-based Presidential Personnel Office. McEntee was charged with inserting Trump loyalists into key executive positions in the administration

OPM was also ground zero for the controversial Schedule F executive order, which could have potentially reclassified thousands of federal jobs as employees at will.

This article was updated Feb. 23 with additional comment.

About the Author

Natalie Alms is a staff writer at FCW covering the federal workforce. She is a recent graduate of Wake Forest University and has written for the Salisbury (N.C.) Post. Connect with Natalie on Twitter at @AlmsNatalie.

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