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Senate panel praises OPM nominee despite subpoena

Senate panel praises OPM nominee despite subpoena

Many senators had high praise on Tuesday for President Obama’s nominee to become the director of the embattled Office of Personnel Management (OPM) despite a recent congressional subpoena.

Beth Cobert, the nominee, has been the OPM’s acting director since this past summer, shortly after the agency revealed several mammoth hacks that exposed over 20 million people’s sensitive information.

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“I just want to say this: We are so lucky that you are willing to serve this country,” said Sen. Tom CarperTom CarperWhy Trump picked a retired general for Homeland Security Dems, greens gear up for fight against Trump EPA pick The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (D-Del.), ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which was holding Cobert’s nomination hearing. “Now to come into an agency that needs a lot of help and great leadership, we're fortunate that you're willing to provide that.”

Cobert in July was tapped as the OPM’s interim director, charged with righting the ship after former OPM Director Katherine Archuleta resigned under pressure from Congress. Obama officially nominated her in November to take over full time.

At the hearing on Thursday, numerous lawmakers lauded Cobert's background and work thus far at the OPM.

Cobert had previously worked to streamline the information technology acquisition process at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), giving her the tech bona fides lawmakers were calling for at the OPM in the wake of the hacks.

“I want to close with telling you how grateful I am that you're willing to take on this challenge,” said Sen. Heidi HeitkampHeidi HeitkampStopgap funding bill poised to pass Senate before midnight deadline McConnell huddles with GOP rep to discuss possible ND Senate opening Senate Democrats dig in as shutdown approaches MORE (D-N.D.). “I look so forward to working with you, you are just absolutely a breath of fresh air and we're excited about you having this position. Uncategorically, bravo. You're a great nominee.”

The positive reception was likely a welcome relief for Cobert. Her hearing convened just hours after House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzOversight panel demands answers on Pentagon waste report Chaffetz: Congress will ‘absolutely’ look at 5B in waste at Pentagon Clinton opponents vow to continue their pursuit MORE (R-Utah) issued a subpoena seeking documents related to last year's breach.

In announcing his decision, Chaffetz specifically accused Cobert of being intransigent.

“Despite assurances of cooperation, I'm disappointed Ms. Cobert is not working in good faith with the committee,” Chaffetz said.

Cobert was grilled briefly about the delay during Thursday’s hearing.

"Help us understand how that relationship is going to be good, but the relationship is really toxic on the House side right now," Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said.

Cobert insisted “we have been working very actively to be responsive” to the committee’s requests for information, noting the OPM is a “small agency” and such requests require a “real commitment of resources.”

Sen. Ron JohnsonRon JohnsonOvernight Regulation: Obama's reg czar under pressure | Fight looms over Trump EPA pick Obama's regulatory czar under pressure to cutoff 'midnight rules' Week ahead: GOP quickly laying groundwork for reg rollback MORE (R-Wis.), who chairs the Homeland Security panel, said the subpoena worried him, but that he still hoped her nomination would be approved.

“I think you're a first-class individual, and we're very glad you're willing to serve and I want this nomination to move forward,” he said.

For the most part, the hearing was relatively convivial and without controversy.

Heitkamp even bantered with Cobert about the similarity between her last name and that of comedian Stephen Colbert.

"I always wonder, do you ever thank Stephen Colbert for the fact that everyone knows how to pronounce your name?” Heitkamp asked.

"It's 'Co-bert' not 'Col-bare,’” Cobert responded. “Although he's from my hometown.”

“But you're not related?” Heitkamp asked.”

“We're not related,” Cobert said. “He's got an ‘l.’ That's what we're missing.”

Carper joked about Cobert’s husband, who was attending the hearing.

“Which one of the folks in the audience is lucky enough to be married to you?” he asked, smiling. “Is his middle name 'Lucky'?”

In a more serious tone, the Delaware senator said he wanted Cobert’s nomination to move “promptly.”

“I remember meeting her and thinking, boy, this woman is smart,” Carper said. Not only smart, but you have great values and great work ethic as well. You've taken on a tough job and we're delighted that you're willing to do it.”

— Katie Bo Williams contributed