The Office of Personnel Management finally has permanent leadership, after the Senate voted 54 to 38 to confirm Dale Cabaniss Sept. 11 to head up the agency responsible for the federal workforce.

OPM has been under the leadership of acting Director Margaret Wiechert following the unexpected retirement of Jeff Pon from the position in October 2018, after just seven months on the job.

Cabaniss has received mixed response since her March 2019 nomination, as employee unions have said that her previous leadership within the federal government at the Federal Labor Relations Authority was marked by poor employee satisfaction and a high reversal rate of her decisions upon appeal.

But a coalition of federal managers wrote a letter to Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee members saying that the agency sorely needs confirmed leadership and Cabaniss’s history in government work ensures that she has the skillset necessary to take up the job.

OPM has also featured at the center of a battle between some members of Congress and the Trump administration, as Democratic members of the house have actively sought to block White House plans to do away with the agency and migrate its functions under the General Services Administration and the Executive Office of the President.

“The director of OPM should be someone with a record of effective employee management, one who understands the importance of an apolitical civil service, values employee morale and respects the mission of the agency. It is essential that she or he be someone with a solid record of federal personnel management,” American Federation of Government Employees Legislative Director Alethea Predeoux wrote in a Sept. 10 letter to senators.

“If some or all of the administration’s plan is carried out, it will be important to have a director of OPM who appreciates the federal merit system and a federal workforce that is free from politicization. Dale Cabaniss’s record demonstrates that she does not have the requisite qualities to serve in such a capacity.”

Cabaniss told committee members at her confirmation hearing that her reading of the White House reorganization plan — which outlines the administration’s intent to break apart OPM — indicates that Congress will have to ultimately sign off on such a move. She promised to be transparent both with legislators about how specifically the White House plans to reorganize OPM and with administration officials about how legally feasible their plans actually are.

Jessie Bur covered the federal workforce and the changes most likely to impact government employees for Federal Times.

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