Federal employee groups, nonprofits cautiously optimistic about OPM nominee

"Our national Veterans Affairs Council President Alma Lee has had limited dealings with Mr. Hager, and those dealings have been positive," said Michael Victorian, a spokesman for the American Federation of Government Employees. Hager currently serves as assistant secretary for human resources and administration at the Veterans Affairs Department, a position he has held since November 2007. During a 15-year stint at the Columbus, Ohio-based Banc One Corp., Hager oversaw a large hiring wave like the one projected to hit the federal government in the coming years as baby boomers retire.

Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said she would try to meet with Hager as soon as possible and make the last few months in the Bush administration productive ones.

"OPM has many important responsibilities in the months ahead, not the least of which is leveraging the size of the [Federal Employees Health Benefits] program to keep health care costs for federal employees from increasing," she said.

But Matt Biggs, legislative director for the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, criticized the nature of the appointment. In addition to nominating Hager, Bush said he would designate him as acting director for a four-year term. The next president can choose a new OPM director, but first would have to remove Hager from the position.

"The president's interest in making this long-term appointment is an attempt to continue the past eight years of failed and ideologically driven personnel policies within the federal government," Biggs said.

National Federation of Federal Employees National President Richard Brown echoed Biggs' call for caution, and said his union would push back against a nominee who supported certain Bush administration policies.

"We oppose the nomination of anyone to this key position who advocates a pay-for-performance system as it is currently proposed," Brown said.

But the questionnaire for presidential nominees that Hager submitted to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee before his confirmation hearing in November suggested that he has tread a pragmatic political path.

Between 1997 and 2007, Hager reported on his Senate forms that he made political contributions to the Republican National Committee and worked for President George W. Bush's election. But he also made a $1,000 donation to Friends of Rahm Emanuel, the campaign fund of the current Democratic Caucus chairman and representative from Illinois, and former head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Hager also listed himself as a current member of the National Rifle Association and a lifetime member of the Republican National Committee. In addition, he served during the 1990s as chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People of Central Ohio, and as chairman of the Central Ohio United Negro College Fund. Hager also served as secretary of the executive committee for the Easter Seals Rehabilitation Center.

Hager won praise from both Democrats and Republicans when he was confirmed for the VA post in late 2007, a time when the department was under fire for failures in the treatment of wounded veterans.

"Mr. Hager's 35 years of business experience in human resources, as well as his general management experience, suggest that he is ready for the challenges of this position," said Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, at the time. Akaka chairs the Veterans Affairs Committee.

"I found him to be serious, a dedicated professional, a person with a desire to serve veterans but, more importantly, a person that truly did understand that sometimes we're asked to serve a country," Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., said in a request to expedite Hager's VA nomination.

Max Stier, president and chief executive officer of the Partnership for Public Service, said Hager's private sector experience with workforce transitions could prove valuable, and could help make a case for keeping him on at OPM in the next administration. During Hager's time as chief human resources officer at Banc One, which has since merged with JPMorgan Chase, the employee population rose from 7,000 to more than 60,000 workers. At Russell Corp., an Atlanta-based athletic-wear company, he oversaw the design of a management succession plan and overhauls of the pension and 401(k) plans.

Hager's professional affiliations also have addressed some of the transformation issues he would tackle as head of OPM. During his private sector period, Hager sat on the human resources coordinating committee of the Business Roundtable. At VA, he has served on the two subcommittees of the Chief Human Capital Officers Council: hiring and succession planning, and human resources line of business.

"I think there's no doubt that you want someone who has experience in organizational transformation. Steady state management isn't what's called for in the federal government," Stier said. "One of the reasons for the challenges we face is we have short-term political appointees who are not incentivized to focus on the long-term organizational challenges in government."

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