A Senate committee has voted to approve Dale Cabaniss as OPM director, sending her nomination to a Senate floor vote at the same time the administration has added new details to its plan to break up the agency.
Cabaniss, who had a confirmation hearing before the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee just last week, has been nominated take over from Margaret Weichert, the deputy director for management at OMB who has run OPM as acting director since last fall and who has been the administration’s main advocate of the reorganization.
Although the committee approved Cabaniss on a voice vote, four Democratic members then went on the record as opposing her. They did not state a reason, although the AFGE union has been urging her rejection for reasons related to her tenure as chair of the FLRA during the Bush administration. In response to questioning about during last week’s hearing, she replied that when she took over, the agency had several management problems, including what she called unfair treatment of some employees, that needed to be addressed and that she understood that some people viewed her actions negatively.
Also controversial is the administration’s planned reorganization of OPM, which would split off its operating divisions to DoD and GSA while leaving the remainder as a policy office under OMB. That was a major topic of the confirmation hearing for Cabaniss, with Democrats complaining that the administration did not provide information they requested. Cabaniss, while promising to be responsive to inquiries from Congress about it, stressed that since she currently holds no government office she has had no direct involvement with the plan.
There was no indication of when a full Senate vote would be scheduled. Such votes often are held quickly after committee approval but the opposition from committee Democrats could cause a delay.
Meanwhile, Weichert said that the administration will send to Congress within the coming days a formal legislative proposal to carry out the organization. A briefing by Weichert and a white paper argued that without the revenue from conducting background checks, OPM will not be able to afford its current IT and other operating costs, and that it would be more efficient to have GSA take over OPM’s other main responsibilities—personnel services to agencies and the insurance and retirement programs. The AFGE responded that any pending financial crisis for OPM was of the administration’s own making, since moving all of the background checks to DoD was a White House decision; an earlier enacted law required moving to DoD only the responsibility to perform checks on its own employees.
The House subcommittee on the federal workforce plans hearings next week on the reorganization, and a move could be made in the Appropriations Committee to block at least the planned transfer of functions to the GSA by denying the funds that would be needed.