White House taps Cobert to be permanent OPM leader

The Office of Personnel Management’s Acting Director Beth Cobert was nominated Tuesday to stay on as the agency’s permanent chief.

In a Nov. 10 statement, President Barack Obama said Cobert would bring a “tremendous depth and quality of experience” to the position, which she has held since July, when former OPM director Katherine Archuleta resigned.

Beth Cobert has been nominated to be the next director of the Office of Personnel Management. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)
Beth Cobert has been nominated to be the next director of the Office of Personnel Management. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

“As acting director, Beth has effectively pursued strategies to strengthen cybersecurity and improve the way the government serves citizens, businesses, and the federal workforce both past and present,” Obama said. “I thank Beth for her commitment to serving the American people and look forward to working with her in the months ahead.”

American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr., in a statement congratulated Cobert, saying she had done “an admirable job” as acting director.

“She has answered questions about the data breach honestly, has taken steps to bring in-house the work associated with notifying affected employees, and seems to understand IT adequately enough to make sure that security measures are in place to minimize further breaches,” Cox said.

Cobert also serves as deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget.  She joined OMB in October 2013 after a 29-year career as a consultant for McKinsey and Co.

Cobert stepped into her role one day after OPM announced that more than 21 million people had been impacted by a data hack.

Since leading OPM, Cobert has found support from congressional members, including Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations, who told Federal News Radio he was pleasantly surprised at Cobert’s outreach efforts.

“It’s very rare in Washington, D.C., to see not only a proactive approach, reaching out to members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, but really a dedication to the federal workforce that came across in her energy, her tenacity, her willingness to ask the tough questions, but more importantly, find a real solution,” Meadows said.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, issued a statement saying that he was hopeful Cobert could fix OPM.

“I am pleased the president has opted for a credible selection this time rather than a political one,” Chafettz said. “It is of huge concern however, that despite suffering a massive data breach and not working in good faith with the OPM OIG, CIO Donna Seymour remains in her position. I strongly urge Ms. Cobert to immediately remove Ms. Seymour and replace her with a qualified CIO who will protect the critical information housed at OPM.”

Republican lawmakers sent a letter to Obama in July calling for the removal of both Archuleta and Seymour. In the aftermath of Archuleta’s resignation, Chafettz has continued to press for Seymour’s removal.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking member on the House Oversight Committee, issued a press release praising Cobert’s work as OPM’s acting director, saying she was the right person for the job.

“While she’s only been in this position for just a few months, she has been steadfast and resolute in her efforts to strengthen the agency’s cybersecurity efforts and keep Congress informed on these improvements,” he said, in the release. “She has also instituted changes to improve the agency’s cooperation and communication with the Inspector General and to address his specific concerns. OPM performs critical duties for our nation, including conducting background investigations, so it is critical that Acting Director Colbert rebuild the public’s trust in this agency.”

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Md.), the ranking member of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, said in a statement that it’s critical for OPM to continue to help the millions of victims of the two cyber breaches.

“Given the magnitude of these breaches and the other challenges facing OPM, permanent, Senate-confirmed leadership at the agency is imperative,” Carper said. “That’s why I welcome President Obama’s intent to nominate Acting Director Cobert as the agency’s permanent director. ”

He also called on Congress to provide agencies with the necessary tools to protect their systems from cyber attacks.

“Last month, the Senate passed critical cybersecurity legislation that would enable the sharing of information among the private sector and federal government and, among other things, require agencies to implement the cyber intrusion and detection program known as EINSTEIN,” Carper said. “I hope the House and the Senate are able to approve the final bill soon and then turn our efforts to enacting badly-needed, bipartisan data breach legislation.”

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