Senate Panel to Vote on OPM Nominations After Long Wait

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., is allowing a vote to move forward thanks to greater cooperation from OPM on a document request. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., is allowing a vote to move forward thanks to greater cooperation from OPM on a document request. Susan Walsh/AP

After years of Republican lawmakers refusing to confirm a director of the Office of Personnel Management over a controversial Obamacare rule, the chairman of a Senate panel will bring President Trump’s nominee to lead the federal government’s HR agency forward for a vote Wednesday.

Jeff Pon was nominated by the White House to be director of OPM last September, following the withdrawal of George Nesterczuk last July. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held a hearing for Pon, along with deputy director nominee Michael Rigas, in October.

But Chairman Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said at the time that he would not allow the nominees to move forward until OPM responded satisfactorily to document requests he made regarding the agency’s decision to allow employees of Congress to purchase health insurance on the D.C. Small Business Health Options Plan exchange and receive an employer subsidy.

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That rule, announced by OPM in 2013, has been a sore spot for GOP senators, who argue that Congress explicitly rejected a proposal for members of Congress and their staff to receive employer health insurance contributions when the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010. Beth Cobert led OPM on an acting basis for more than 18 months during the Obama administration while her nomination was held up in committee.

Johnson issued a subpoena to OPM for documents related to the development of the 2013 rule last December. In a statement, a committee spokesperson said Johnson has relented thanks to greater cooperation from OPM.

“OPM made a substantial document production pursuant to the chairman’s subpoena,” the spokesperson said. “Based on the production, and OPM’s continued assurances of cooperation with the inquiry, the chairman intends to move ahead with the OPM nominations.”

The decision to bring the nominations forward comes at a critical time for the agency. OPM would be at the forefront of the Trump administration’s efforts to overhaul the civil service system, both in making it easier to hire and fire employees and to institute a pay-for-performance compensation system.

The White House’s fiscal 2019 budget proposal, released Monday, seeks to jumpstart that transition by instituting a government-wide pay freeze for civilian workers next year and replacing the annual across-the-board raise with a $1 billion fund to reward high performers.

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