US President Joe Biden has nominated Indian-American lawyer and rights activist Kiran Ahuja to head the Office of Personnel Management, a federal agency that manages America’s more than two million civil servants.
If confirmed by the Senate, 49-year-old Ahuja, nominated on Tuesday, would become the first Indian-American to serve this top position in the US government.
Ahuja served as the Chief of Staff to Director of the US Office of Personnel Management from 2015 to 2017. She has more than two decades of public service and nonprofit/philanthropic sector leadership experience.
Ahuja currently serves as Chief Executive Officer of Philanthropy Northwest, a regional network of philanthropic institutions.
She began her career as a civil rights lawyer at the US Department of Justice, litigating school desegregation cases, and filing the department’s first student racial harassment case.
From 2003 to 2008, Ahuja served as the founding executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, an advocacy and membership organisation.
During the Obama-Biden administration, she spent six years as executive director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, leading efforts to increase access to federal services, resources and programmes for underserved Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs).
Ahuja grew up in Savannah, Georgia, as a young Indian immigrant in the wake of the civil rights era, and earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Spelman College and a law degree from the University of Georgia.
The Washington Post said Ahuja would have a mandate to reverse course on former president Donald Trump’s policies on the civil service, which he and his top aides often derided as a ?deep state? of Democratic bureaucrats.
Many agencies lost experts in a range of fields during the Trump era, and Biden has pledged to revitalise the workforce, the daily reported.
Congressman Gerry Connolly, Chairman of the House Government Operations subcommittee, welcomed the nomination of Ahuja.
“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,” he said.
“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,” Connolly said.
President Biden has made an excellent choice in his nomination of Ahuja to serve as OPM director, Congresswoman Judy Chu said.
“With over two decades of experience serving in government, non-profit and philanthropic sectors, Kiran is uniquely qualified to lead OPM at this critical juncture as we work to build a federal workforce that reflects the full diversity of our country,” she said.
“As the former chief of staff to the director of OPM and the former executive director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders under the Obama administration, she will bring a wealth of knowledge and expertise to OPM that will enable her to hit the ground running on day one,” Chu added.
Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, said Ahuja is a civic-minded leader and an outstanding choice for this important job.
Her 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, he noted.
In a statement, American Federation of Government employees said Ahuja brings a wealth of experience in federal personnel matters and her record of advocacy on behalf of women of colour is reason to be optimistic that she will make it a priority to reverse the previous administration’s active undermining of diversity and inclusion efforts across the government.
“Ahuja has the knowledge and experience that OPM needs to guide human resource policy for the federal workforce. And importantly, she is committed to protecting the non-partisan civil service and ensuring that it reflects the diversity of the United States,” said National Treasury Employee Union president Tony Reardon.
“During the Trump administration, the agency was constantly disrupted by outside efforts to break it up and dismantle it, to the detriment of the federal employees who rely on OPM for independence and management of important federal employee programmes.
“We believe this appointment will result in steady, professional leadership at OPM that is committed to protecting its unique role in administering federal retirement programmes and other human resource management priorities,” he said.