Katherine Archuleta resigned Friday morning from her position as director of the Office of Personnel Management in the wake of new details that 21.5 million Americans’ personal information was compromised in a hack of data maintained by the agency.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said at a Friday briefing Archuleta stepped down “of her own volition,” despite Archuleta saying Thursday afternoon she would not resign. He added the White House agreed with Archuleta’s own conclusion that new leadership at the agency was necessary.
“It is quite clear that new leadership with a set of skills and experiences that are unique to the urgent challenges that OPM faces are badly needed,” Earnest said.
In her own statement, Archuleta -- who visited the White House personally Friday morning to deliver her resignation to President Obama -- said serving as OPM director was the “highlight” of her career. The White House was quick to announce current Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director for Management Beth Cobert would replace Archuleta as acting OPM director.
“I conveyed to the president that I believe it is best for me to step aside and allow new leadership to step in, enabling the agency to move beyond the current challenges and allowing the employees at OPM to continue their important work,” Archuleta said.
She thanked the OPM workforce for its service and noted some of the major accomplishments she oversaw in her 20 months at the post.
Archuleta’s signature initiative was the creation of the “REDI” (recruitment, engagement, diversity and inclusion) program to improve the quality of the federal workforce. REDI was officially launched in March, and will include an overhaul of USAJOBS.gov and provide more tools to agencies so they can manage their own human resources solutions.
The outgoing OPM director noted, as she consistently has since the initial hack was reported in June, that she initiated some of the information technology upgrades that helped detect the initial data breach. Earnest echoed those sentiments on Friday.
The press secretary also praised Archuleta for creating more evidence and data-based human resources solutions, expanding flexibilities in the federal workplace and improving health care for the federal workforce. Earnest said that while Archuleta did not possess the specific skills necessary to deal with current challenges OPM faces, her resignation “certainly does not take away or diminish” from her record as director.
Archuleta came to OPM after serving as political director for Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign and as chief of staff at the Labor and Transportation departments. Her nomination was held up for months as Republican lawmakers played political gamesmanship in relation to the Affordable Care Act, and she ultimately received only 65 votes in the Senate, an unusually low number for the position.
Several Republicans praised Archuleta’s resignation.
“I'm pleased to hear OPM Director Archuleta has resigned from her post,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s panel with federal workforce oversight. “It was long overdue.”
Oversight Chairman Rep. Jason Chafffetz, R-Utah, said it was “absolutely the right call” for Archuleta to step down, and said she never should have been appointed in the first place.
“In the future,” Chaffetz said, “positions of this magnitude should be awarded on merit and not out of patronage to political operatives.”
Rep. Jim Langevin, a Democrat from Rhode Island, also praised the decision, saying it should serve as a “wake-up call” for agency heads across government to assess their own cyber risks.
Federal employee groups were not as critical of Archuleta, noting OPM’s IT problems predated her appointment. They added the priority should remain on protecting federal workers whose data has been exposed.
“The announcement of OPM Director Archuleta’s resignation puts federal employees in a dire state of uncertainty,” said William Dougan, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees. “The administration needs to get control of this situation and they need to provide stable leadership that those affected can turn to for answers in the wake of this unprecedented attack.”
J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said Archuleta’s resignation is “not a solution to the damage that has been done” to the more than 22 million people impacted by the two separate hacks of OPM data.
“Firing one individual solves nothing,” Cox said. “Congress should recognize that preventing future breaches requires funding. Budget austerity has consequences, and we’re seeing one of them right now.”
Archuleta had previously indicated OPM will likely require a supplemental appropriation from Congress to appropriately manage the fallout from the hack. Earnest demurred when asked if that coming budget fight played any role Archuleta’s departure.
Cobert, Archlueta’s successor, joined OMB in 2013 after working for decades at the management consulting firm McKinsey and Co. She had been tasked with carrying out President Obama’s second term management agenda, which is based on the four “pillars” of effectiveness; efficiency; economic growth; and people and culture.
Earnest said Cobert will now be tasked with implementing the changes already underway at OPM, such as boosting the use of two-factor authentication and reducing the number of “privileged users” on the agency’s networks. She will also oversee the benefits provided to those affected by the hacks, and the selection of a contractor to deliver those services. The press secretary said Cobert will “move out quickly” the reforms needed at OPM.
As Archuleta had complained since news of the hack broke, OPM still manages many legacy systems that are difficult to equip with modern security measures. Earnest said OPM will have to rely on experts both inside and outside of government to make the necessary changes to its networks, and Cobert’s management experience positions her well to bring those groups together.
At her 2013 confirmation hearing, Cobert touted her ability to work with “small groups of people trying to make changes on a large scale, to make change happen and make change stick.”
NFFE’s Dougan praised the selection of Cobert.
“We have worked with Beth for a number of years,” Dougan said, “and we believe this is a solid choice in the interim during this time of chaos at OPM. Beth has the necessary skillset to provide leadership at OPM while the president weighs long-term options.”