President Donald Trump’s nominee for Office of Personnel Management head John Gibbs faced scrutiny from lawmakers of both parties at a Sept. 9 Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs hearing for tweets and public statements he had made years prior, which were described as anti-Semitic, anti-Islamic and conspiracy theories.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, characterized the tweets — which included claims that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former White House Chief of Staff John Podesta participated in satanic rituals — as “extreme,” “bizarre” and “nonsensical.”
Though Gibbs did not address the contents of the tweets specifically, he pointed to past experiences of both himself and his family which made discrimination “absolutely unacceptable to me.”
“I regret that it has unfortunately become an issue,” said Gibbs, adding that he has always led in a non-partisan manner, which the approximately 700 employees that reported to him in his position at the Department of Housing and Urban Development could attest to.
But Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., noted that such tweets presented a question of judgement, in addition to concerns about the diversity of federal employees.
Much like other recent nominees to the post, Gibbs pointed to OPM’s aging IT systems and burdensome processes as the most crucial problems in need of addressing at the agency.
“OPM and the federal government face many challenges today, but I believe we can overcome those challenges together. Three of the most persistent challenges facing OPM today are challenges all of the members of this committee have doubtlessly heard of: time-to-hire, retirement processing, and IT modernization,” Gibbs said.
“My experience in personnel management throughout my career, my cyber security expertise, and my success working with people from all backgrounds, will greatly come to bear as I work closely with agency staff and Congress to address these challenges, if confirmed as director.”
Gibbs promised to focus on moving paper retirement services to an electronic format and increasing the number of self-service options for federal retirees, a central priority outlined in a Sept. 8 letter sent by the Senior Executives Association and National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association to committee leadership.
But committee members did not ask for Gibbs’s stance on a number of other priorities outlined in the letter, such as plans for the management of the federal employee health benefits system, intent to move forward with the proposed merger between OPM and the General Services Administration and how Gibbs will engage employee associations and unions in decision making.
Gibbs did state his support for telework as an important tool during the pandemic and committed to working with Congress to improve methods for supporting and managing teleworking employees.
“We have found that telework has been a very effective experience; those employees that really are the good performers continue to do so under telework. So that is something that I support as the circumstances call for it, as the circumstances do right now,” said Gibbs.
Like current OPM policy, Gibbs noted that his pandemic approach and guidance would take into account the factors impacting individual agencies and “make decisions based on the best guidance that we have from the CDC.”
Jessie Bur covered the federal workforce and the changes most likely to impact government employees for Federal Times.