Chaffetz backs OPM nominee, clearing one block to confirmation

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Beth Cobert, acting director of the Office of Personnel Management, has cleared one of the bigger roadblocks in her path to Senate confirmation — gaining the support of Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Texas, and his House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. 

Though as a member of the House of Representatives, Chaffetz has no vote in Cobert’s confirmation, Senate Republicans have cited his committee’s outstanding document request as a potential stumbling block for the nominee. The day before Cobert’s first hearing last month, the oversight committee issued a subpoena demanding documents related to the ongoing investigation of the OPM systems breaches in late 2014 that compromised the security of more than 22 million federal employees and security clearance applicants. 

Members of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs during that initial hearing the next day noted a subpoena from a congressional committee is typically a last-resort effort necessary only when an official or agency is not cooperating — and suggested that a failure to resolve the issue would reflect poorly on her chances of confirmation.

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., worried during the hearing that the agency’s relationship with the House committee might be “toxic” and a sign of things to come with his own committee. 

Cobert, however, promised senators she would comply with Chaffetz’s requests, and it appears she’s now done so. 

In a letter directed to Senate leadership, dated March 3, but made public only last week, Chaffetz wrote in support of President Barack Obama’s nomination of Cobert. He said he had already received “some responsive documents” by the subpoena’s deadline and the agency’s agreement to continue producing outstanding documents on a rolling basis.

“She is a qualified and competent choice to manage OPM, which is in need of strong leadership, and we urge the Senate to approve her nomination swiftly,” Chaffetz wrote in the letter, co-signed by his committee counterpart, ranking member Elijah Cummings, D-Md. 

The move is doubly significant because Chaffetz led the congressional outcry against OPM since news of the devastating hacks broke in June 2015. He repeatedly — and ultimately successfully — called for the resignation first of then-Director Katherine Archuleta and later of her CIO Donna Seymour.

Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs ranking member Tom Carper, a Democrat from Delaware who has perhaps been Cobert’s biggest supporter in her quest for nomination, submitted Chaffetz’s letter to the official congressional record late last week while continuing his own praise for the acting director.

“I have known people who are show horses and folks who are workhorses,” Carper said. “This woman is a workhorse — I like to think people look at us as workhorses as well — but she is focused on getting the job done. She is especially good at surrounding herself with terrific people. She did that at OMB, she did that at OPM, and she did that before when she was in her very significant position at McKinsey & Company.”

Nonetheless, at least one potential stumbling block remains from Sen. David Vitter, R-La., who said he wouldn’t vote in support of her confirmation until 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 that OPM essentially exempted lawmakers from the ACA rules, and wants more information about how that decision was made. Cobert was not with OPM when that ruling was issued. Vitter’s office did not respond to email and telephone messages requesting comment.

Contact the reporter on this story via email at Billy.Mitchell@FedScoop.com or follow him on Twitter  @BillyMitchell89. Subscribe to the Daily Scoop to get all the federal IT news you need in your inbox every morning at fdscp.com/sign-me-on.

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Agencies, Attacks & Breaches, Congress, Cybersecurity, Government IT News, House of Representatives, Office of Personnel Management (OPM), Senate, Tech, workforce
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