Kiran Ahuja, Executive Director of WHIAAPI, at the White House Summit on May 12, 2015.

Kiran Ahuja, Executive Director of WHIAAPI, at the White House Summit on May 12, 2015. White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders

Biden Nominates Kiran Ahuja for OPM Director

Ahuja, who previously served as the agency’s chief of staff during the Obama administration, would be the first South Asian and the first Asian American woman to lead the federal government’s HR department.

President Biden on Tuesday announced that he will nominate Kiran Ahuja to be the director of the Office of Personnel Management, tapping an Obama administration veteran to rebuild an agency slated for dissolution by President Trump.

Ahuja previously served as OPM’s chief of staff from 2015 until 2017 and would be the first South Asian to lead the federal government’s HR shop. Prior to joining OPM, she was the executive director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders during the Obama administration. She began her career in government as a civil rights attorney in the Justice Department.

Since leaving government, she worked as CEO of Philanthropy Northwest, a network of nonprofit organizations in the Pacific Northwest.

After last year’s presidential election, Ahuja led Biden’s transition team at OPM. If confirmed, she faces considerable challenges, particularly rebuilding an agency and workforce that the Trump administration sought to dismantle, sending pieces of the agency to the General Services Administration and the Executive Office of the President.

Critics of the plan accused the White House of trying to strip the agency responsible for administering a nonpartisan civil service of its independence, and blasted proponents for their failure to produce key documents justifying the need for the agency’s merger with GSA. Congress eventually blocked that effort on a bipartisan basis, instructing the administration to halt its efforts until the National Academy of Public Administration could conduct a thorough study of the agency’s challenges. That study is slated for release next month.

Ahuja also will need to reassure the agency’s career workforce, which was battered by the merger plan, frequent shakeups at the top of the organizational chart, and the placement of political appointees in positions that traditionally had been reserved for top career employees.

In a statement, acting OPM Director Kathleen McGettigan, a career OPM executive, praised Biden’s choice to lead the agency on a permanent basis.

“Having worked with Kiran before, I can personally attest to her deep appreciation for the critical role this agency plays in powering a strong federal government and her commitment to empowering the OPM workforce with the tools and support it needs to deliver on its important work,” McGettigan said.

And Beth Cobert, who served as acting OPM director from 2015 until 2017, said Ahuja would be an “outstanding” leader of the agency.

“She knows firsthand the critical role OPM must play in rebuilding a strong federal workforce that is ready to meet the urgent challenges of the nation,” Cobert said. “Her commitment to empowering the OPM workforce, expertise in federal human capital issues and track record of bringing people together to solve difficult problems makes her an excellent choice for this role who will hit the ground running on day one.”

Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service, also applauded the nomination.

“Kiran Ahuja is a civic-minded leader and an outstanding choice for this important job,” Stier said. “Ahuja’s exceptional qualifications include more than two decades of nonprofit leadership and public service, including at OPM and the White House, and a track record of solving human capital issues through innovation and collaboration.”