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Nominee to lead Office of Personnel Management is in limbo after committee delays vote

The Office of Personnel Management in Washington.

SARAH SILBIGER/THE WASHINGTON POST

By ERIC YODER | The Washington Post | Published: September 17, 2020

WASHINGTON — A Senate committee on Wednesday set aside a planned vote on the Trump administration's controversial nominee to head the Office of Personnel Management amid growing opposition.

The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee had been scheduled to vote on the nomination of John Gibbs, who for the past three years has been a senior official at the Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD).

"We're going to hold over his nomination because some of our members would like to request some additional information from the nominee," said chairman Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis.

There was no further discussion of Gibbs, who faced skeptical questioning at his confirmation hearing last week from senators of both major political parties regarding comments he had made and tweets he had sent while a political commentator before going to HUD.

Those included tweets that senators said could be viewed as anti-Islamic and others supportive of fringe concepts or people, including a baseless conspiracy theory involving senior Democrats and Satanic worship.

In February 2016, for example, he tweeted, "JFK's Dem party: Tax cuts, Anti-commie, strong defense, lunar landing. Today's Dem party: Islam, gender-bending, anti-police, 'u racist!' "

When asked at the hearing last week whether he regretted making those comments, Gibbs said, "I regret that it's unfortunately become an issue" and did not disavow them. He said that as a Black man who has experienced discrimination, he would not allow it as federal personnel director.

This week the National Treasury Employees Union, one of the largest federal employees unions, urged the committee to reject Gibbs, as had the Senior Executives Association, which represents top career executives just below the level of political appointees.

"Mr. Gibbs is not qualified for this important position," NTEU President Tony Reardon said in an emailed statement. "We hope this delay is a sign that committee members of both parties are having reservations about putting someone in charge of federal personnel management policy that has shown a distinct lack of respect for the principles of a non-political merit system."

Gibbs has little experience in federal personnel matters, having worked mainly in the software industry before going to HUD, where he oversees a community planning and development office. The two OPM directors previously confirmed during the Trump administration - both of whom resigned after about half a year after disputes with White House officials - had extensive backgrounds in those issues.

The OPM is being headed on an acting basis by its deputy director, Michael Regas, who has been nominated to become the deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget.

The committee on Wednesday approved three nominees for the five-seat governing board of the Thrift Savings Plan, the 401(k)-style retirement savings program for federal and military personnel. They were nominated just as the program prepared to expand one of its available investment funds to also reflect about two dozen emerging-market countries, including China.

At the confirmation hearing all three expressed serious reservations about that change, which is on indefinite hold, though they did not explicitly rule it out.

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