President Donald Trump’s nominee to run the federal government’s bureaucracy could be a key player in reforming it, and in keeping the president’s campaign pledge to “drain the swamp.”
Trump last month nominated Jeff Tien Han Pon, 47, to be director of the Office of Personnel Management, the government’s human resources agency. Pon served in the administrations of both President Bushes—with jobs in the White House, OPM, and Energy Department—and held information technology and human resources positions in several private companies.
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee was scheduled to hold a confirmation hearing Wednesday on Pon’s nomination.
Pon is largely unknown to those who seek reform of the civil service, said Robert Moffit, a former OPM assistant director under President Ronald Reagan who is now a senior fellow for health studies at The Heritage Foundation.
“The OPM director has enormous authority and can help the president staff the administration, and would be welcome at a time when we don’t see any major draining of the swamp with the massive bureaucracy,” Moffit told The Daily Signal. “Every day, career bureaucrats are issuing decisions on guidelines and making interpretations of regulations. We need management there to take the bull by the horns.”
Trump’s previous nominee, George Nesterczuk, withdrew in August after relentless opposition from federal employee unions.
However, Pon seems less controversial and gained the backing of the Senior Executives Association, a nonprofit that advocates for top federal government officals. In a letter to the Senate, SEA President Bill Valdez wrote:
While serving at the Department of Energy, I had the privilege of working with Jeff on a project he initiated to improve human capital processes at DOE. The thought leadership he brought to that project is indicative of the skills and experience he will bring to his new role at OPM. Jeff’s expertise in human capital management has only grown since I worked with him in government, as evidenced by senior roles with the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), Futures Inc., and Booz Allen Hamilton.
Pon also doesn’t face outright union opposition.
“While it is early in the nomination process and we reserve final opinion, we appreciate the consideration to name a nominee with a diverse and rich professional history in federal human capital,” Randy Erwin, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, said in a statement early last month to the publication Government Executive. “We look forward to learning more about Mr. Pon and we hope that he, if confirmed, will view employee organizations as valuable and significant partners.”
Trump is nine months into his administration without an OPM director, the official charged with managing the federal workforce. Moffit and other conservatives have criticized the president for not filling key political positions, which they contend is how he can control career federal employees who have civil service protections.
However, Trump recently told Forbes: “I’m generally not going to make a lot of the appointments that would normally be—because you don’t need them. I mean, you look at some of these agencies, how massive they are, and it’s totally unnecessary. They have hundreds of thousands of people.”
Trump’s vanquished Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, recently urged federal employees to stay, asserting: “I don’t want to lose decades—really, if you added it all up, the thousands of years—of experience in the EPA, in the State Department, in the Labor Department. … If [Democrats] can take back one or both houses of Congress in 2018, you will have people you can talk to again.”
Pon has been the chief human resources and strategy officer for the nonprofit professional membership organization Society for Human Resource Management, where he has worked since February 2012.
For about 18 months before that, he was chief operating officer for Futures Inc., which helps members of the military transition into the civilian workforce.
At barely 21, Pon worked in the White House Office of Public Liaison under President George H.W. Bush from 1991 to 1992. He returned to Washington to work for President George W. Bush as deputy director for e-government at the OPM from June 2003 to December 2005. He left to work as chief human capital officer at the Energy Department from January 2006 through August 2008.
In between the two Bush presidencies, Pon worked in information technology and human resource jobs at Federal Express, Williams Sonoma, PetCo, and Burger King. He has a doctorate in psychology from the University of Southern California.