The Washington Post
OPM director scrutinized over hires with history of misconduct
Personnel office’s leader is set to appear before House panel next week
House and Senate leaders are intensifying pressure on the leader of the federal government’s personnel agency after two high-profile hires to senior roles were found in separate investigations to have a substantiated history of sexual misconduct in previous jobs.
On Wednesday, two Senate leaders called the hiring decisions “particularly problematic” in a letter to Office of Personnel Management Director Kiran Ahuja that demanded details of her agency’s vetting practices for new employees.
Ahuja has also been called to appear next week before the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, where she is expected to face lawmakers’ questions about the hires as part of a wide-ranging hearing on federal workforce issues, committee aides said.
The letter from Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (I-ariz.) and James Lankford (R- Okla.) notes that the two appointments are especially troubling given OPM’S role setting personnel standards for the federal government.
“OPM is not just any Federal agency; it is the Federal agency charged with coordinating and implementing human capital management and prescribing suitability, fitness, and credentialing standards for Federal employment,” wrote Sinema and Lankford, the chairwoman and top Republican, respectively, of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s subcommittee on government operations and border management.
“Given the Subcommittee’s longstanding commitment to ensuring the Federal Government is free from racial or sexual insensitivity, sexual harassment, or any other form of inexcusable behavior, we have a responsibility to ask appropriate questions regarding whether OPM is failing to serve as a role model on matters of employee vetting and workplace safety,” the senators wrote.
Erikka Knuti, Ahuja’s communications director, did not respond to questions about the letter but said in an email that “OPM is committed to ensuring a safe and professional workplace for all of our employees.”
The scrutiny of Ahuja, who was appointed by President Biden in 2021, follows a February report in The Washington Post on the hiring last year of Frederick Tombar III to the No. 2 job leading the agency’s largest division, retirement services. Tombar had resigned as executive director of the Louisiana Housing Corp. in 2015 amid an internal probe by a state agency that concluded he harassed two subordinates. He remains on the job, according to three people familiar with his status. Tombar, who denied the allegations in Louisiana at the time, did not respond to a request for comment.
In January, Douglas A. Glenn was forced from his post as OPM’S chief financial officer days after the release of an investigation by the Defense Department inspector general that found he had engaged in a litany of racially and sexually offensive behaviors in his previous role as acting comptroller at the Pentagon. Glenn disputed those findings by the inspector general.
OPM officials have declined to publicly discuss the circumstances around each official’s hiring and whether they were aware of the past allegations. But following The Post’s inquiries regarding Tombar, the agency said it had launched an internal review of its hiring practices and of how the men were brought on to senior roles.
The senators’ new letter demands to know when OPM officials first learned of the misconduct allegations in both cases. The letter also told Ahuja to provide details on what “due diligence or other vetting” her staff did before hiring both senior leaders, its policy on allegations of sexual misconduct against employees, and other details of its hiring practices. The senators directed Ahuja’s staff to appear in person to brief lawmakers on the details of how each official was hired.
Ahuja probably will face similar questions from House lawmakers when she appears before the Oversight Committee on March 9.
“We are aware of the reports that senior officials with a history of sexual harassment have been hired at the agency, and we expect that to come up during the hearing, in addition to many other topics,” said a committee aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the hearing has not been formally announced.
OPM is responsible for managing the 2.1 million-person civil service, coordinating recruiting and hiring, and managing health insurance in addition to its role processing claims and administering retirement, health and survivor benefits to 2.7 million retired federal employees and their families.
Details about both Tombar’s and Glenn’s conduct has raised bipartisan concerns about OPM’S vetting process.
Louisiana officials paid $89,500 to one of Tombar’s accusers in a settlement after she sued, the state said. Investigators found “a pattern of sexual harassment and hostile work environment,” the report said — and in the case of one woman, “clear evidence of quid pro quo sexual harassment,” the investigation of his conduct, obtained by The Post, found.
A spokeswoman for Tombar at the time called the claims “unproven” and said his resignation was not an admission of guilt but an effort to protect his family from publicity.
After OPM employees raised concerns about his hiring to a leadership role in the retirement services division, which employs just shy of 1,000 claims processors and other staff, senior agency officials concluded that he should not meet alone with female colleagues, people familiar with the decision said.
Tombar has continued working from his home in New Orleans and flies to Washington at least once a month. Like any senior executive or new hire to the federal government, he is on probation for one year. Knuti declined to discuss why Tombar remains on staff.
Following The Post’s report on Tombar, Ahuja pledged her commitment in a staff-wide email to a “safe and professional workforce for all employees.”
She wrote that her agency was redesigning a more robust workplace safety and anti-harassment training for all managers.
“As you stated in a recent email to your staff, OPM has a responsibility to ensure a ‘safe and professional workforce for all employees,’” the senators wrote in their letter to Ahuja. “Given that OPM’S mission includes coordinating human capital management for the Federal Government, any potential failure by OPM on such matters is particularly problematic.”