The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday advanced the nomination of Kiran Ahuja, the president’s pick to lead the Office of Personnel Management.
Ahuja’s nomination moved forward with little debate. The vote was 7-5, with no Republicans voting in favor of her nomination.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), the committee’s ranking member, described two reasons behind his decision to vote “no”:
“Her previous support of critical race theory is deeply concerning to me, and I think that’s true with a number of my colleagues,” he said. “Our goal should be to promote healing and equality of opportunity. I believe diversity and inclusion in our workforce are very important, but we need to approach those goals in a way that promotes teamwork and empowering people.”
Ahuja’s views on the topic came up only once during her nomination hearing last week, when Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) questioned her about her opinions on systemic racism, critical race theory and actions that the previous administration took to ban certain types of diversity and inclusion training.
The Biden administration reinstated diversity and inclusion training on the president’s first day in office.
“I don’t know the specifics about the trainings you’re citing,” Ahuja, who started her career in government as a civil rights attorney at the Justice Department, said last week. “The ones that I have been exposed to and are familiar with have really encouraged understanding people from all walks of life [and] really creating an inclusive work environment. I especially think for the younger generation, that is what they’re looking for.”
Portman also said he had concerns about Ahuja’s views on abortion and the Hyde amendment, which bans federal funds from being used to pay for abortion unless under specific circumstances.
At her nomination hearing, Ahuja said she understood the OPM director’s role in administering the Federal Employees Health and Benefits Program.
“The Hyde amendment is the law of the land, and I will follow the law,” she said last week.
The committee also advanced the nominations for Ronald Stroman, Anton Hajjar and Amber McReynolds, the president’s picks for the Postal Board of Governors.
“All four of these nominees have my full support and confidence,” said Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), the committee’s chairman. “They are each uniquely qualified to take on these incredibly important and challenging roles.”
The nominations will go to the Senate floor for a full vote.
Federal employee groups are looking for the Senate to act quickly on Ahuja’s nomination. The National Active and Retired Federal Employees (NARFE) Association said OPM needs consistent leadership to restore credibility and confidence to the agency and make real progress in modernizing the federal workforce.
“It’s time to make progress, and we need a qualified OPM director in place to do so,” Ken Thomas, NARFE’s national president, said last week in a statement. “Ahuja fills the bill.”
OPM had two permanent directors during the last administration, but their tenures were brief. Two others led the agency on an acting basis and served longer than the people they replaced.
At her nomination hearing, Ahuja vowed to bring stable leadership to OPM and said she would stay at the agency as long as she had support from Congress and the president.