Kiran Ahuja, President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Office of Personnel Management, has said her goal is to free "black queer and trans people" from the "daily trials of white supremacy." If confirmed, Ahuja would help set hiring standards and coordinate diversity training across the entire federal government.
Until her February nomination, Ahuja was the CEO of Philanthropy Northwest, a nonprofit that offers "diversity, equity, and inclusion-focused programs" to philanthropic foundations. In a blog post written last year on Philanthropy Northwest's website, Ahuja pledged to play a "vocal role in our country’s eternal battle for racial equality." The post cited a Guardian article by Ibram X. Kendi that proposed eliminating all "'race-neutral' policies that yield racial inequality."
OPM is supposed to be a nonpartisan agency that manages the U.S civil service. It grew out of the 19th century Civil Service Commission, which sought to curb corruption and patronage by hiring personnel based on merit. The agency’s guiding principle, according to its website, is that "employees should be judged only on how well they can do the job."
Kendi, whom Ahuja’s group hosted multiple times, has called standardized tests "the most effective racist weapon ever devised."
Biden’s staffing choices at OPM indicate that the agency is already being politicized. OPM’s communications director, Caroline Ciccone, was until recently the head of Accountable.US, a leftwing nonprofit that pressured companies to cut ties with former Trump administration officials. Since OPM sets hiring and promotion standards for the entire civil service, politicizing the agency could have ripple effects throughout the federal government.
Ahuja’s confirmation would accelerate this process. Shortly after taking office, Biden rescinded President Trump’s executive order barring agencies from conducting diversity trainings that promote "divisive concepts," such as the idea that "the United States is fundamentally racist." Those trainings are Ahuja’s specialty. Under her tenure, Philanthropy Northwest hosted a "racial equity speaker series" about the "racism and implicit bias inherent in society’s structures." Kendi was a featured speaker at the series and is frequently cited in Ahuja’s writings.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
What might federal diversity trainings look like with Ahuja at the helm? Her writings offer some clues.
"All forms of discrimination flow from the subjugation of Black and Indigenous people," Ahuja’s post on Philanthropy Northwest’s website reads. "We are asking ourselves and our philanthropy peers, 'how will we work to not only acknowledge the life and the future of the Black community, the Indigenous community, Black immigrants, Black queer and trans people, Black women; but also to affirm it so that they are free from the daily trials of white supremacy?'"
This paper trail came up during her Thursday confirmation hearing, when she was pressed by Sen. Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) to answer whether she agreed with Kendi’s article in the Guardian.
"I do not recall this article that you are referring to," Ahuja said. She also punted on whether the United States is systemically racist.
Kendi has argued that the United States should establish a Department of Anti-Racism to discipline "policymakers and public officials who do not voluntarily change their racist policy and ideas." With Ahuja’s nomination, he is one step closer to that goal.