The Office of Personnel Management officially has its first Hispanic female director, with the Senate's confirmation of Katherine Archuleta by a 62-35 vote on Wednesday evening. It marks the end of an almost five-month confirmation process stalled by Republicans' concerns about the Affordable Care Act.
"I look forward to working shoulder to shoulder with her to improve the historical underrepresentation of Latino federal employees across all departments," said Hector Sanchez, the chairman of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda — a coalition of more than 30 organizations from across the Hispanic community.
Archuleta, 64, was named to the agency's top post by President Obama in late May. She was endorsed by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in a 6-4 vote at the end of July, before Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., placed a hold on her nomination. Coburn and other Republican senators who voted against Archuleta cited issues with Obamacare as the reasons for opposing her appointment.
Melody Gonzalez, NHLA's appointment director, stressed that the GOP roadblocks had "nothing to do with Archuleta's qualifications." OPM is essentially the human-resources department for the federal government, and Archuleta has been a top administrator for two Cabinet secretaries.
After the Senate confirmed her on Wednesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement that the president shares Archuleta's "vision for diversity and inclusion in the federal workforce." The NHLA says it will continue to push for greater Latino representation within the federal government, with Sanchez noting that the group expects a second Hispanic to be named to join Labor Secretary Thomas Perez in the Obama Cabinet.
Late last month, NHLA criticized the lack of progress on Archuleta's nomination. But the Colorado native had more to overcome than issues with the Affordable Care Act. Her nomination also had to be squeezed into a busy, but limited, Senate schedule.
Coburn removed his hold on Aug. 8, but the Senate was out of session until Sept. 9. When senators returned, they spent the approximately 16 days they were in session last month being briefed on an international crisis in Syria, before switching gears and trying — unsuccessfully — to avoid a government shutdown.
As of Thursday, more than 30 nominees — not including privileged nominations — were stuck in the Senate's confirmation process.
Archuleta is the first OPM nominee to require a cloture vote for confirmation, something Sanchez called "difficult for us to understand." But it is reflective of a larger use of cloture votes in the Senate during the last 10 Congresses, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service. During the 112th Congress, cloture votes to overcome filibusters were required on 33 nominees to the judicial or executive branch.
Archuleta was the national political director for Obama's 2012 presidential campaign, and this won't be her first stint in Washington.
She began her career in Denver, working for then-Mayor Federico Peña. When President Clinton picked him in 1993 to head the Transportation Department, Archuleta followed Peña to Washington — eventually being named his chief of staff. She also served as his senior policy adviser during his time as Energy secretary, before returning to Denver. Back in the Centennial State, Arachuleta worked in Denver for then-Mayor John Hickenlooper, who is now generating buzz as a potential 2016 Democratic presidential candidate.
In 2009, Archuleta tackled another federal department, accepting the chief of staff position for then-Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.