Kiran Ahuja's to-do list at OPM

Kiran Ahuja, the recently installed director of the Office of Personnel Management, has a host of long-standing agency issues to deal with, along with helping implement governmentwide workforce policy to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Kiran Ahuja, director of the Office of Personnel Management - official photo
 

The federal government's top human resources official told reporters on an Aug. 4 press call that there isn't a timeline in place for the implementation of the Biden administration's new vaccination policy for federal employees.

Last week, the administration set down a policy that requires federal employees to attest to having been vaccinated against COVID-19 or else be subject to frequent tests in order to check the spread of the coronavirus as it enters a new phase with the emergence of the Delta variant.

"There's been a lot of work in the midst of issuing these model safety principles," Kiran Ahuja, director of the Office of Personnel Management, told reporters. "Agencies were already underway in figuring out what their timeline was going to be for reentry and post-reentry. It's going to be really hard to say what the specific timeline is."

More information from the Safer Federal Workforce Taskforce for agencies about Biden's new requirements is forthcoming, Ahuja said, and officials are trying to give agencies flexibility to meet their specific needs in carrying out the guidelines.

"We want agencies to be very purposeful, to really tie themselves to the principles around how they think through what this will look like for not only their agency, but for individual components -- that is going to vary," Ahuja told reporters. She acknowledged that there are "more questions than answers at this point," adding that "folks are hard at work trying to give as much information but also give agencies the flexibility because the workforce differs from agency to agency, even within agencies."

Additionally, federal employee unions are pressing to be included in workplace reentry plans and have expressed strong reservations about a possible vaccine mandate for employees they represent being laid down without bargaining.

"I'll say that what is also emphasized is the union partnership at the agency level and to engage the local unions, to ensure that you are bargaining on those pieces of your reentry that require that type of engagement," Ahuja said.

Longstanding challenges

Ahuja, who was confirmed by the Senate in June arrived at OPM facing challenges not just from the pandemic, but from morale problems stemming from plans made under the Trump administration to merge the agency into the General Services Administration. More generally, the agency has experienced a lack of Senate-confirmed leadership, with just three permanent directors since 2013.

The lack of confirmed leadership has "had a huge impact on the agency," she said. "If you don't have that continuity of leadership, you really can't deal with those larger challenges. I think it definitely affects morale. It affects OPM's positions vis-à-vis other agencies, with [the Office of Management and Budget], to really position the agency."

A March report by the National Academy of Public Administration found that OPM's role in human capital management has diminished over the years as OMB's role has grown, and as acting officials have taken on both positions at once in recent years.

Ahuja, who served as OPM's chief of staff in the wake of the massive personnel records hack in 2015, said that coming back to existing relationships with OPM officials has been helpful.

"I am very well aware that the lack of capacity and people having to work much more to cover two, three jobs is also affecting morale," she said. "And so the ways that we can support our employees through spot awards, through time off as awards, you know, for the work that they're doing. We're trying to think of every possible avenue that we have."

Ahuja said she wants to make a difference on agency morale and deal with long-standing challenges such as the modernization of the paper-based retirement processing system and an exodus of employees in senior positions.

Short term, Ahuja said that the agency is going to deal with current retirement backlogs using tech "sprints." OPM is also going to be piloting an online app for retirement processing and moving into a new contact center, she said. Long term, OPM will have to create a strategic plan and dedicate "dogged leadership attention" over multiple years, something Ahuja said she's committed to seeing through.

"My plan is to be here as long as people will have me," she said.

The future of government work

Ahuja also has her eye on governmentwide priorities to rebuild the workforce, plan for the future workforce and diversify the workforce.

The Biden-Harris administration has proposed hiring surges across several agencies in its fiscal year 2022 budget. Ahuja said that she's interested in ensuring the government has the critical skills it needs and wants to focus on attracting early-career officials to the government.

Ahuja noted that the rapid adoption of telework during the pandemic provides an opportunity to change how federal government work is done. She said that OPM is hearing from agencies that they need guidance on how to support leaders in managing and engaging a remote workforce.

"This pandemic has upended the norms of work and how we think about what work looks like -- and certainly that is having an impact among the federal workforce," she said. There is an "opportunity to really define the future of work."

NEXT STORY: HHS looks to reset labor relations

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.