- Ahuja faced staunch opposition from the GOP because of her ties to critical race theory through her nonprofit organization Philanthropy Northwest.
The Senate voted narrowly on party lines today to confirm Kiran Ahuja as the director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). She is the first South Asian American to lead the independent federal agency.
Vice President Kamala Harris cast the tie-breaking 51st vote in Ahuja’s favor. This was Harris’ sixth tie-breaking vote as vice president so far. Earlier in the day, she cast her fifth tie-breaking vote to advance Ahuja’s nomination.
Ahuja became the first Biden official confirmed via tiebreaker. Harris previously broke a tie on a procedural vote for Colin Kahl, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, but not on final confirmation).
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.
The New York Times says Ahuja’s confirmation “follows a tumultuous period at the federal human resources agency.” The OPM has had five different directors, three of them acting, while President Donald J. Trump was in office, “with one of the confirmed directors quitting under pressure from the White House and the other fired by the president.”
Ahuja faced staunch opposition from the GOP because of her ties to critical race theory through her nonprofit organization Philanthropy Northwest, a network of nonprofit organizations in the Pacific Northwest.
Leading the Republican resistance was Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.). He first raised concerns with Ahuja’s nomination to lead OPM and her support for radical critical race theorists as “thought leaders.” Hawley was referring to critical race theory and anti-racism activist Ibram X. Kendi, whom Ahuja had hosted for an event at Philanthropy Northwest.
During the confirmation vote today, he blasted Ahuja warning that she could use her post as essentially the head human resources officer for the federal government to promote critical race theory. “I’m highly concerned about this politicization of the federal government.”
The GOP also criticized Ahuja’s remarks last year, following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. “You can’t be a true ally to Black communities until you take it upon yourself to understand our racialized history in its most intimate and heinous forms,” she wrote last June. “And learn, as I did, that all forms of discrimination flow from the subjugation of Black and Indigenous people.”
“Kiran Ahuja is a qualified, experienced and dedicated public servant who we are looking forward to leading the Office of Personnel Management in its work protecting the safety of the workforce, empowering federal employees and building a federal workforce that looks like America,” a White House spokesperson told media outlets.
In a tweet, Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) lauded Ahuja’s confirmation. “Throughout her career, Kiran Ahuja has built a tremendous record of championing federal personnel matters & remains a strong advocate for women of color. I’m exceptionally proud to support my friend & fellow Savannahian as the new Director of @USOPM
Announcing Ahuja’s confirmation, journalist Sahul Kapur, national political reporter at NBC News tweeted: “Senate votes 51-50 to confirm Kiran Ahuja to be director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. The first Indian-American VP casts the tie-breaking vote for the first Indian-American OPM chief.”
Ahuja, who led Biden’s transition team at OPM, previously served as the agency’s chief of staff from 2015 until 2017. Before 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.
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.
Two other Indian Americans work at the OPM — Tanya Sehgal, Special Counsel and Senior Advisor, and Mini Timmaraju, Senior Advisor to the Director.
Sehgal most recently worked at Relman Colfax, a civil rights law firm. Before 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 Chase and 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.