Dems urge Cobert’s confirmation as OPM director


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All four Senate Democrats from the national capital region are urging the Republican leader in the chamber to allow a vote on the confirmation of Beth Cobert as director of the Office of Personnel Management. 

Virginia’s Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, and Maryland’s Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin sent a letter Thursday to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., encouraging him to “assuage concerns within your caucus and swiftly bring her nomination to the floor of the Senate for a vote.”

Despite bipartisan and bicameral support, Cobert — who took over as acting director last July and was nominated by President Barack Obama as permanent director in November — has faced the singular resistance of Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter, who has blocked a vote for Cobert since February because of a contentious ruling OPM issued in 2013 on how the Affordable Care Act applies to members of Congress.

“[I]t is unfortunate that one member of the Senate has continued to hold Ms. Cobert’s nomination for ideological reasons completely unrelated to her qualifications and performance,” wrote the senators, who together represent more than 630,000 current and retired federal workers in their states.

McConnell’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Cobert appeared to have a clear path to Senate confirmation after the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee voted unanimously in February to advance her nomination to the floor.

That’s when the anti-ACA Vitter quickly stepped in to block her.

“While we understand our colleague has concerns relating to OPM rulemaking that occurred well prior to Ms. Cobert’s tenure at OPM, we continue to urge him to elevate those concerns in a productive and appropriate manner rather than hamstringing the agency at a moment when strong leadership is sorely needed,” they wrote.

The note comes almost exactly a year after the first announcement of a series of massive breaches at OPM, which stole information on more than 21 million Americans held in the agency’s federal personnel and background check databases.

“Ms. Cobert stepped into the Acting Director role in the aftermath of one of the worst cyberattacks ever committed against the U.S. government,” the letter says. “Under her leadership, the agency continues to address the serious consequences of the security breaches, including protection for the millions of individuals whose sensitive information was compromised, and efforts to improve cybersecurity at OPM so that a breach of this magnitude never occurs again.”

[Read more: OPM’s Cobert pledges ‘highest priority’ to cyber in confirmation hearing]

In the 11 months that Cobert has served as director in an acting capacity, she says she has helped rebuild OPM’s IT operations with cybersecurity as the highest priority. 

“Focusing on cybersecurity, protecting OPM’s systems and data, and providing services to the individuals who were affected [by the agency’s cyber breaches] has been my highest priority since joining OPM. It will remain my highest priority if confirmed,” Cobert told the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs during her nomination hearing in February.

[Read more: OPM names first CISO]

She also brought in U.S. Deputy CIO Lisa Schlosser on detail to serve as her senior adviser on IT and acting CIO, a position vacated by Donna Seymour in February when she retired from government, amid the fallout of the breaches, just days prior to her scheduled testimony and questioning of her role in discovering and mitigating the hacks. 

Cobert also recently hired OPM’s first chief of information security, Cord Chase.

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Agencies, Congress, Cybersecurity, Government IT News, Office of Personnel Management (OPM), Senate, Tech