Cobert’s OPM nomination moves to Senate floor

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The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee voted unanimously Wednesday in favor of advancing Beth Cobert’s confirmation as director of the Office of Personnel Management. She now faces a vote on the Senate floor. 

The committee spent little time deliberating on the matter, mostly reiterating that despite members’ admiration of and favor for Cobert, there are some issues of cooperation she must address with other members of Congress before she’s likely to be able to pass the next barrier and win a vote on the Senate floor.  

Cobert took over the role of OPM director in an acting capacity last summer after her predecessor, Katherine Archuleta, resigned amid unrelenting criticism from lawmakers demanding answers after a pair of database breaches exposed the personally identifiable information of 22.1 million former and current federal employees, as well as security clearance applicants and those close to them.   

“Beth Cobert is an extraordinary individual — wonderful background … I want to strongly support this nomination,” said committee Chairman Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis. But, “there are some problems.”

[Read More: OPM nom Cobert pledges ‘highest priority’ to cyber]

Prior the committee’s hearing on Cobert’s nomination last week, which she mostly breezed through, Sen. Dave Vitter, R-La., penned a letter to Cobert saying he would block her confirmation unless she responded to his questions about a contentious ruling OPM issued in 2013 on how the Affordable Care Act applies to members of Congress. 

Vitter charges in the letter that OPM essentially exempted lawmakers from the ACA rules and wants more information about how that decision was made. Cobert briefly discussed the issue during the hearing, but she said she was unfamiliar with it because the rules were enacted long before her tenure at OPM began.  

Johnson sees Vitter’s letter as “very reasonable,” adding, “I completely support Sen. Vitter’s request for this information.” 

A document subpoena from the House Oversight Committee issued to Cobert prior to last week’s hearing also drew concerns from the Senate committee, particularly around her willingness to cooperate with lawmakers. Several on the Senate committee mentioned in the hearing last week that the subpoena, which demands documents from OPM for investigation of the massive breaches of its personnel and background investigations systems, seems like the type of last-resort effort necessary when an official is not cooperating.

“That’s concerning,” Johnson said Wednesday. “There’s been a lack of cooperation that led to the subpoena. We expect Mrs. Cobert to work with Chairman [Jason] Chaffetz [R-Utah] to come to agreement on that.” 

Because Cobert agreed in a statement to cooperate with any and all congressional inquiries, Johnson said he was willing to move her nomination through the committee. 

“Mrs. Cobert’s going to have to cooperate if this nomination’s going to move forward,” he said. 

“I hope she does.” 

Contact the reporter on this story at Billy.Mitchell@FedScoop.com or follow him on Twitter @BillyMitchell89. Get all the Federal IT news you need in your inbox every morning by subscribing at fdsp.com/sign-me-on.

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Agencies, Beth Cobert, Congress, David Vitter, Government IT News, Office of Personnel Management (OPM), Ron Johnson, Senate
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