Kiran Ahuja, the nominee to be Office of Personnel Management director, speaks at a confirmation hearing in April.

Kiran Ahuja, the nominee to be Office of Personnel Management director, speaks at a confirmation hearing in April. Andrew Harnik / AP

Senate Confirms Ahuja as OPM Director in Close Vote

With Vice President Kamala Harris breaking a tie, lawmakers installed the first permanent director for the federal government’s HR agency in more than a year.

The Senate on Tuesday voted narrowly along party lines to confirm President Biden’s pick to lead the federal government’s human resources agency.

Kiran Ahuja will serve as the first permanent director of the Office of Personnel Management since Dale Cabaniss abruptly resigned from the post in March 2020 following reported interference from staffers in the Trump White House. The job was held on an acting or permanent basis by five different people over the course of the Trump administration, contributing to uncertainty and turmoil at the agency.

Vice President Kamala Harris broke a 50-50 tie on the Senate floor to confirm Ahuja, a former OPM chief of staff and longtime nonprofit executive. Republicans voted uniformly against her nomination, accusing her of support for “critical race theory,” an academic framework used primarily in law schools for examining how racism persists institutionally rather than through personal animus but that Republicans in recent months have argued, without evidence, is a “cultural Marxist” plot.

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who had previously placed a hold on Ahuja’s nomination, based his accusations against Ahuja on the claim that she “frequently promoted” anti-racist author and activist Ibram Kendi. She once linked to a Kendi article in The Guardian about systemic racism following the murder of George Floyd by police in Minnesota, and her nonprofit, Philanthropy Northwest, hosted a panel discussion with Kendi in 2018.

“I’m concerned that Ms. Ahuja is a disciple of radical critical theorists,” Hawley said on the Senate floor. “She has frequently promoted Ibram Kendi, and I’m concerned that as the federal government’s HR director, she could use her platform to promote radical ideologies that seek to divide rather than unite America . . . I do not for one moment question her sincerity or integrity, but I cannot agree with what appears to be her fundamental ideology.”

During her confirmation hearing, Ahuja said she did not remember the blog post cited by Hawley but that she supports diversity and inclusion training in a general sense.

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., defended Ahuja on Tuesday, arguing she has the qualifications and vision to guide the embattled agency.

“Both OPM and the federal workforce have faced unprecedented challenges in recent years, from attempts to dismantle the agency and the record-setting government shutdown to the coronavirus pandemic, all with a lack of consistent and committed leadership,” Peters said. “Her career includes ... management experience running nonprofit organizations, leading the White House initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders under the Obama administration and serving as chief of staff at OPM. Throughout the confirmation process, she has demonstrated that she understands the mission of OPM and the importance of safeguarding the nonpartisan civil service.”