After months-long holdup, committee sends OPM nominations to Senate

After a four-month wait, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee moved forward with nominations for the top two positions at the Office of Personnel Management.

The committee voted Wednesday en bloc to move the nominations forward, which the full Senate will now consider.

Both Jeff Pon, the president’s pick to be OPM director, and Michael Rigas, the nominee for the agency’s deputy director position, have been in limbo for months.

President Donald Trump nominated Rigas in July and Pon in September. Both appeared before the committee at a joint nomination hearing in mid-October and appeared to satisfy the members’ questioning with little controversy.

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But committee Chairman Ron Johnson put a hold on Pon’s nomination later that month, citing concerns with a special ruling OPM issued back in 2013, which described a special exemption to the Affordable Care Act for members of Congress and their staff members. He later subpoenaed OPM in December for the remaining documents.

“OPM made a substantial document production pursuant to the Chairman’s subpoena,” a spokeswoman for the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee said in an email to Federal News Radio. “Based on the production, and OPM’s continued assurances of cooperation with the inquiry, the chairman intends to move ahead with the OPM nominations.”

The Senate committee made no other comments about the nominations Wednesday morning. The en bloc vote also included six other pieces of legislation and several postal renaming bills.

Johnson revived his concerns about OPM’s special ruling back in August. He said during October’s nomination hearing he had been waiting for at least four years for OPM to produce all documents related to the agency’s ACA ruling.

Johnson brought forth the same issue during former acting OPM Director Beth Cobert’s own nomination hearing in February 2016. Cobert, at the time, made similar promises to comply with the Senate’s request, but the chamber ultimately never confirmed her to a permanent position.

If the full Senate confirms Pon and Rigas, it will be the first time the agency has a permanent director in more than two years. OPM has been without a deputy director for longer — more than five years.

Katherine Archuleta last served as the permanent director for OPM, until she resigned in July 2015 during the aftermath of two major cybersecurity breaches at the agency.

Kathleen McGettigan has been serving as OPM’s acting director since Cobert left with the change in administration last January.

Since then, OPM has unveiled few new policies or significant initiatives, with the possible exception of a new human capital business reference model (HCBRM) last December. The model is supposed to simplify and streamline HR operations for agencies and employees.

Just this week, OPM unveiled its new, five-year strategic plan. It details OPM’s areas of focus for the coming years, in addition to two agency priority goals.

If confirmed, Pon and Rigas will be responsible for OPM’s efforts to transform current hiring, pay and benefits across government and lead the creation of the HCBRM that it announced at the end of last year.

“OPM will create a government-wide employee digital record that will make government-wide HR data accessible in a secure cloud-based environment,” OPM acting Director Kathleen McGettigan said in the plan. “The employee digital record will include data from various stages in an employee’s career related to recruitment, training and development, performance management, pay and benefits, and retirement. Federal employees will be able to securely access their HR-related data — from recruitment to retirement — anywhere, any time. Agencies will spend less time manually processing HR transactions, and manually collecting and submitting data to OPM to fulfill low-value reporting requirements.”

In addition, OPM wants to improve its communication and the annuity, health care and vetting services it provides to other federal agencies and employees.

The agency’s new directors will also be responsible for taking the lead on the Trump administration’s workforce priorities under the President’s Management Agenda — and, according to the OPM strategic plan, will work with Congress to modernize an “outdated and inflexible” pay and benefits system.

Pon most recently served as the chief human resources and strategy officer for the Society for Human Resources Management. He previously led the human resources consulting division at Booz Allen Hamilton and served as chief human capital officer for the Energy Department and eGovernment deputy director at OPM.

Rigas was chief of staff for the Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Services. He previously worked for the Heritage Foundation and the General Services Administration.