Senate Confirms Pon to Lead Federal HR Agency

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer March 9, 2018
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Jeff Pon, SHRM-SCP, director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management

The federal government's human resources department has a new permanent director for the first time in nearly three years.

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) announced March 8 that Jeff Pon, SHRM-SCP, was confirmed as director by a voice vote in the U.S. Senate. Pon's confirmation comes as the Trump administration is set to unveil its federal workforce agenda, including significant civil service reform proposals such as implementing performance-based pay.

In addition, the agency intends to improve its retirement, health care and screening services, as well as to help federal workers reskill for jobs being disrupted by emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence.

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Pon was most recently the Society for Human Resource Management's chief human resources and strategy officer. He previously served as chief human capital officer for the Department of Energy and a deputy director of e-government at OPM during the George W. Bush administration and the launch of USAJOBS, the federal government's careers site.

"Jeff Pon brings impressive and extensive leadership to OPM, and he understands both the hurdles and the importance of recruiting, hiring and training a high-quality federal workforce," said Partnership for Public Service CEO Max Stier in a news statement.

The Senior Executives Association also praised Pon's confirmation. "We need a strong and seasoned leader at the helm of OPM to manage what will no doubt be extraordinarily complex proposals affecting the federal workforce coming out of the [president's plan]," said Bill Valdez, president of the association.

At his confirmation hearing in October 2017, Pon said his priorities as OPM director would include ensuring that hiring managers are recruiting from diverse talent pools, cutting the significant lag times in retirement payments and benefits claims by investing in technology, and making headway on an enormous backlog of security clearance screens. Interim clearances, such as the ones recently highlighted at the White House, are routinely issued due to the backlog.

"We have not taken a hard look at our civil service laws in decades, we are still relying on paper processes, and in too many areas the federal government is not a workplace that is keeping up with the demands of the next generation of public servants or serving our current federal employees," he said.

Members of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association were encouraged to hear this, said the association's national president, Richard Thissen, in a statement. He added that there is a need to make federal retirement claims processing "simpler, quicker and modern to better serve retiring federal workers, who deserve the timely receipt of the benefits they have rightfully earned."

Pon was nominated to the position in September 2017, but Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Chairman Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., put a hold on the process for months over a request for documents about health care contribution policies for members of Congress and their staff.

The committee voted in February to move the nomination forward after OPM agreed to comply with Johnson's request and produced enough documents.

OPM's last permanent director, Katherine Archuleta, resigned in July 2015 in the wake of a massive cybersecurity breach at the agency.

The Senate also confirmed Michael Rigas as deputy director of OPM. He is the first deputy director in more than five years.

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