- If confirmed, she would be the first South Asian American to lead the independent federal agency.
President Joe Biden has nominated Obama administration veteran Kiran Ahuja to be the director of the Office of Personnel Management. If confirmed, she would be the first South Asian American to lead the independent federal agency. After last year’s presidential election, Ahuja led Biden’s transition team at OPM. She previously served as OPM’s chief of staff from 2015 until 2017.
News reports say Ahuja faces the challenging role of rebuilding OMP which faced constant threats of shutting during the Trump-era amid leadership changes. “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,” reports Government Executive, a source of news, information and analysis about the operations of the executive branch of the federal government.
The OMP is tasked with overseeing the federal civilian workforce, which consists of thousands of employees, as well as the hiring process. “It has taken on additional importance during the coronavirus pandemic, as OPM offers guidance on telework, benefits and other policies,” the agency website says.
Ahuja will require Senate confirmation before taking on the role.
Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), head of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, issued a statement lauding Ahuja’s nomination. “I commend President Biden for continuing to build on his commitment to nominate highly qualified Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to senior roles throughout the federal government, and I know Kiran will be an outstanding member of the Biden Administration.”
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.
Prior to joining OPM, Ahuja 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.
As per her profile on Philanthropy Northwest, Ahuja spent her childhood in Savannah, Georgia, and most of her adult life in Washington, D.C. “Her passion for service and commitment to improving the lives of communities of color grew out of a formative educational experience at her alma mater, Spelman College,” the profile says.
She received her law degree from the University of Georgia School of Law. She currently serves on the board of directors for Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy (AAPIP), the United Philanthropy Forum and the Wing Luke Museum. An avid yoga practitioner with a teacher certification, Ahuja is working toward building a stronger meditation practice; however, as in all efforts in life, it is a continuous journey to find balance.
A date for Ahuja’s Senate confirmation hearing has not yet been finalized. Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), chairman of the House Government Operations subcommittee, released a statement welcoming Ahuja to the OPM. “I welcome Kiran Ahuja back to the Office of Personnel Management. Ms. Ahuja’s years of leadership experience and knowledge of OPM are much needed to rebuild an agency that was targeted for elimination in the last administration. Ms. Ahuja is a well-known and expert leader who will instill stability and confidence in OPM as it recruits, hires, retains, and retires our 2.8 million federal employees. I look forward to her swift Senate confirmation, and then getting to the hard work of transforming OPM into the human resources and leadership training organization our nation needs it to be.”
Meanwhile, Senate confirmation of another Indian American, Neera Tanden, Biden’s nominee for the director of the Office of Management and Budget, is facing one hurdle after another. Two hearings that were scheduled to vote on Tanden’s nomination were unexpectedly postponed on Feb. 24. Citing that Senators want more time to consider the nomination, news reports speculate that it could be a sign of trouble.
Last week, Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia announced that he did not support Tanden’s nomination due to her previous tweets criticizing his colleagues, including Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Earlier this week, Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah announced their opposition to the Indian American, further putting in peril the confirmation of President Joe Biden’s nominee for the director of the Office of Management and Budget. Without support from Manchin in an evenly divided Senate, Tanden needs backing from at least one Republican. However, lack of support from both Collins and Romney could possibly make Tanden Biden’s first nominee to fail confirmation.
Similarly, Vivek Murthy, Biden’s nominee for surgeon general, could face some opposition to his Senate confirmation hearing on Feb. 25, after financial disclosures filed in the ethics document file revealed that he received millions of dollars last year as coronavirus consultant to the private sector.
Last month, Biden appointed Tanya Sehgal, as Special Counsel and Senior Advisor and Mini Timmaraju, Senior Advisor to the Director at the OPM.
Sehgal most recently worked at Relman Colfax, a civil rights law firm. Prior to this, she spent several years working as Senior Elections Counsel on the Committee on House Administration, Coordinated Campaign Counsel for Hillary for America, and as an attorney at JPMorgan Chaseand Skadden Arps. She has a B.A. in International Relations from Brown University, and a J.D. from Columbia Law School.
Timmaraju comes from Comcast Corporation where she served as the executive director for the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion team. Her prior roles include National Women’s Vote Director for Hillary for America, Chief of Staff for Congressman Ami Bera, and leadership positions with Planned Parenthood and the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans. She is a graduate of UC Berkeley and the University of Houston Law Center.
Bhargavi Kulkarni has been a journalist for nearly two decades. She has a degree in English literature and French. She is also an adventure sport enthusiast, and in her free time, she likes to cook, bake, bike and hike.