Senate approves Dale Cabaniss despite concerns regarding her past governmental experience and plans to merge the agency with the General Services Administration.
The Senate on Wednesday voted 54-38 to confirm Dale Cabaniss as director of the Office of Personnel Management, mostly along party lines. Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.; Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.; and Doug Jones, D-Ala., voted for her confirmation.
OPM has been overseen by acting Director Margaret Weichert for nearly a year. Trump’s first Senate-confirmed OPM director, Jeff Pon, was ousted from the post after just seven months, reportedly because he resisted the Trump administration’s plan to merge OPM with the General Services Administration and send the agency’s policymaking functions to the White House.
Cabaniss faced opposition from most Democrats and federal employee unions, in part over her time as chairwoman of the Federal Labor Relations Authority during the George W. Bush administration.
In April, Government Executive reported that under her guidance, employee engagement at the labor authority dropped to record lows. Former employees and political appointees alike said they were dismayed by her nomination, with one official describing her tenure as one marked by a “deficit of leadership.”
During her confirmation hearing, Cabaniss dismissed those complaints as backlash against her efforts to make the FLRA more effective.
“It was a time of change when I arrived; there were a lot of deficiencies in HR and procurement and acquisition issues, and employees were not treated equally,” Cabaniss said in May. “There were a lot of changes in policies and guidance, not only to be consistent with [President George W. Bush’s] management agenda, but to make sure everyone is treated fairly. I understand it was not popular, but they were things we needed to do to be stewards of taxpayer dollars and to make sure merit principles were followed.”
Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., urged his colleagues to vote against Cabaniss's confirmation in a floor speech Tuesday.
“OPM is charged with safeguarding the nonpartisan civil service from political motives from this or any other White House,” Peters said. “OPM needs strong and steady leadership focused on good governance, unswayed by the public whims of elected officials. This agency and the millions of Americans it serves each and every day deserve a proven and independent leader. Simply put, Dale Cabaniss is not that leader.”
The American Federation of Government Employees sent a letter to senators Tuesday opposing Cabaniss, citing her leadership of FLRA as a disqualifying factor.
“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,” AFGE Legislative Director Alethea Predeoux wrote. “It is essential that she or he be someone with a solid record of federal personnel management. It is clear that Dale Cabaniss’ professional career demonstrates that she neither supports the mission of OPM nor possesses the appropriate experience to lead this important agency at such a critical point in its history.”