Katherine Archuleta testifies July 16 during her nomination hearing to be director of the Office of Personnel Management before the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs in Washington. (Mike Morones / Staff)
The Senate has confirmed Katherine Archuleta to head the Office of Personnel Management after her nomination became temporarily snarled in a fight over how the 2010 health care overhaul should apply to congressional staffers.
The 62-35 vote late Wednesday came five months after President Obama chose Archuleta, a former federal administrator who helped run his re-election campaign last year, for the job of overseeing the federal civil service system. Archuleta replaces John Berry, who stepped down from the OPM director’s job in April and is now ambassador to Australia. Her confirmation also means that the agency’s acting head, Elaine Kaplan, can move on to a seat on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims for which she has already been confirmed.
Archuleta, whose most recent federal post was Labor Department chief of staff from 2009 to 2011, will be the first Hispanic to head OPM. At a July hearing, she pledged to bolster the use of information technology to improve processing of retiring employees’ pension applications and to create the position of chief technology officer for the agency.
But Archuleta’s candidacy then became entangled in a fight over how OPM planned to implement a provision in the Affordable Care Act requiring members of Congress and their personal staffs to buy health insurance on market exchanges instead of through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. The law left unclear whether the same requirement applied to staffers who work for congressional committees or whether the government would continue to cover almost 75 percent of the premium cost, as it does for FEHBP participants.
Soon after the hearing, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said he would block Archuleta’s nomination from a final confirmation vote until OPM spelled out its position. Although Coburn dropped his objection after the agency quickly moved to clarify that the government would keep paying for the bulk of staffers’ premiums, that raised the hackles of two other GOP lawmakers.
On Wednesday, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., accused OPM officials of caving to pressure from congressional leaders to continue subsidized coverage and then stonewalling his request for records and other information on how they reached their decision. On similar grounds, Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., acknowledged putting a “hold” on Archuleta’s nomination, but said his opposition was directed at OPM, not at her. An OPM spokesman did not respond to a request for comment on Vitter’s allegations. Earlier in the day, the Senate had voted 81-18 to override a potential filibuster to Archuleta’s nomination, making clear that she would be confirmed.