OPM nominee to focus on improving security review process, veteran hiring

Listen to In Depth with Francis Rose's coverage of the Earl Gay hearing

wfedstaff | April 17, 2015 9:56 pm

The Office of Personnel Management may soon be getting its first deputy director in three years, provided the Senate gives its nod to Retired Navy Rear Adm. Earl L. Gay.

President Barack Obama nominated Gay in September to fill the position vacated by Christine Griffin, who left the agency in August 2011.

The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs listened to testimony Tuesday afternoon on Gay’s nomination to be OPM Director Katherine Archuleta’s deputy.

“If confirmed, I would use my skills in strategic planning and team building to assist Director Archuleta in leading and management of the agency,” Gay said, in his opening remarks. “Under her leadership, OPM has improved our processing of new retirement claims and we’ve now complete over 82 percent of cases in 60 days or less.”

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Given Gay’s military and national security background, Archuleta has tapped him to dedicate a significant portion of his focus on the Federal Investigative Services. He’ll work with agency leaders in implementing the security review process reforms introduced by the White House.

Gay added that OPM, which is responsible for conducting background investigations for 95 percent of the federal government, has made progress in strengthening the quality of oversight controls within its background investigations program.

In September, OPM announced that it planned to terminate its contracts with security clearance contractor USIS, after a Department of Justice complaint alleged the company had transmitted cases back to OPM and falsely represented them as completed.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) asked Gay about what progress OPM has made in reducing the background investigation backlog.

Gay answered that OPM has brought in a third contractor, NT Concepts, to help out.

“Right now, I would ask for a little patience, because the quality and integrity of the background investigations remains the number one priority,” he said. “The two companies that took on the USIS absence have increased their capacity and we are in close coordination with them weekly.”

Portman also pressed Gay about what OPM is doing to help agencies protect themselves from the growing number of increasingly sophisticated cyber attacks they are facing.

“The cybersecurity area is one of the skill gaps that we must close,” Gay said.

His plan is to engage the Chief Human Capital Officers at each agency to ensure that they are using the correct applications to find potential hires with the skills necessary to tackle these cybersecurity threats.

Archuleta also asked Gay to take the lead in bringing more veterans into the federal workforce.

“If elected, I look forward to working with Director Archuleta on her initiatives related to strengthening our recruitment efforts on women veterans,” he said. “We must all ensure that we continue to honor the service of our military men and women, especially those returning from conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) described the current state of morale in the federal workforce as being at an all- time low. He wanted to know what ideas the nominee might have on improving employee recruitment and retention.

Although the USAJobs website is better than it was just a few years ago, Gay said it could be better.

“We at OPM can help the agencies better craft their applications to produce more attractive announcements,” he said. “And also in the area of strategic recruitment as well, to find out where the IT specialists are. We had the same issues in my previous job. One of the critical occupations was nuclear power. And so, we had to go out and seek those pools and see where the talent was at.”

Regarding retention, Gay said agencies should increase employee engagement by empowering them to be “a part of the team.” This can be done by helping employees develop their careers and offering them opportunities for training.

“Public service is a noble profession, and we must do all that we can to recruit, retain and honor our world class workforce, and to strengthen and improve the services offered by OPM, from resume to retirement and beyond,” Gay said.

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