Senate confirmations bring permanent leadership to OPM for first time in more than 2 years

The Senate on Wednesday night confirmed both Jeff Pon and Michael Rigas to serve as director and deputy director for the Office of Personnel Management.

The Senate on Wednesday night confirmed Jeff Pon to the be director of the Office of Personnel Management, bringing permanent leadership to the agency for the first time in more than two years.

Senators approved his nomination with a voice vote.

They also confirmed Michael Rigas to be OPM’s deputy director. The agency hasn’t had a deputy director for more than five years.

Both Pon and Rigas’ nominations had been held up in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee 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.

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.

In February, the Senate committee voted to move both nominations forward after OPM produced a sufficient number of documents and agreed to comply with Johnson’s subpoena.

The Partnership for Public Service applauded the confirmation.

“Jeff Pon brings impressive and extensive leadership to OPM, and he understands both the hurdles and the importance of recruiting, hiring and training a high quality federal workforce,” Partnership President and CEO Max Stier said in a statement. “We look forward to working alongside the new OPM director to strengthen the federal workforce and to find constructive and achievable solutions to improving many aspects of the civil service system.”

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 Beth 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.

OPM last month unveiled a new, five-year strategic plan. Both Pon and Rigas will be in charge of that plan, which puts the agency at the center of the Trump administration’s efforts to transform hiring, pay and benefits across government.

The agency will also lead the creation of the HCBRM that it announced at the end of last year.

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

Those improvements will have the eyes and ears of many federal employee associations such as the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association (NARFE), which also praised the Senate’s confirmation and said it was long overdue.

“NARFE members were … encouraged to hear Dr. Pon was aware of the need to make federal retirement claims processing simpler, quicker and modern to better serve retiring federal workers, who deserve the timely receipt of the benefits they have rightfully earned,” the association’s national president, Richard Thissen, said in a statement.

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.

The White House is expected to unveil the full President’s Management Agenda later this month, and permanent leadership at OPM will be instrumental to putting those plans in action, the Senior Executives Association said.

“We need a strong and seasoned leader at the helm of OPM to manage what will no doubt be extraordinarily complex proposals affecting the federal workforce coming out of the PMA,” SEA President Bill Valdez said in a statement.

Earlier this week, acting OPM Director Kathleen McGettigan described OPM’s role in preparing agencies for the workforce of the future. In the coming months, OPM will have more guidance to help agencies re-skill and “up-skill” current employees for new kinds of jobs — ones that balance technology with human collaboration.

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