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Obama's OPM Nominee Did Latino Outreach For Campaign


Democrats and Republicans both have a political interest in passing immigration reform as a way to appeal to the growing number of Latino voters. More than 70 percent of Latinos who voted last year backed President Obama. Well, now the president has tapped the political director of his campaign to lead the government's personnel office and if confirmed, Katherine Archuleta would be the first Latina to hold the title. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: No one's more proud of Archuleta's new job than Federico Pena. The former mayor and cabinet secretary has been a boss and cheerleader for Archuleta for more than three decades.

FEDERICO PENA: You know, she is like a sister to me.

HORSLEY: Archuleta worked for Pena when he was mayor of Denver in the 1980s. Later, when Pena became transportation secretary under Bill Clinton, he brought her to Washington with him.

PENA: Number one, she's a people person. She comes from a background of understanding the everyday challenges of individuals, and that includes a very broad cross-section of people.

HORSLEY: Archuleta ultimately served as chief of staff in both the Transportation and Labor Departments. Pena describes her as no-nonsense and decisive, someone who knows the workings of big, complex organizations.

PENA: She's very straightforward, not afraid to make tough decisions, particularly in the personnel arena. She used to do that for me. So I think she's very prepared to take on this huge challenge.

HORSLEY: Archuleta's work for Pena was more administrative than political, but she was exposed to his campaign to become Denver's first Latino mayor. That experience - mobilizing voters who are not traditionally involved in politics - helped to inform Archuleta last year when she held a top spot as political director of Obama's reelection campaign.

The campaign poured tremendous energy into turning out voters who are typically underrepresented at the polls, including Latinos, and it made a difference. Political scientist David Damore of UNLV says 40 percent of Latinos who cast ballots in Nevada last year were voting for the first time.

DAVID DAMORE: You had a huge push for registration and that is the big obstacle in Latino political participation, is the registration threshold.

HORSLEY: Archuleta would face a new set of challenges as personnel director for the vast federal workforce. Jacque Simon, who directs public policy for the largest union of federal workers, says there's plenty of unfinished business concerning health benefits, retirement and pay.

JACQUELINE SIMON: We've been in a pay freeze for three years, partly because of the success of people who try to demagogue the issue of federal employees' salaries being too high.

HORSLEY: While pay levels are set by Congress, the personnel office has to work out details such as regional adjustments to account for different job markets. Archuleta is no stranger to tight budgets. She helped cut staffing at the Transportation Department by nearly 10 percent, experience that Pena says should be helpful in her new job.

PENA: I like to joke that sometimes in Washington you've got a lot of very young, excited and talented people who are serving our country, but you need to have someone with some gray hairs sitting in the room. And Katherine brings that wealth of experience and maturity in trying to address so many of these complex issues.

HORSLEY: Delaware Senator Tom Carper, who chairs the Governmental Affairs Committee, says he looks forward to considering Archuleta's nomination in a thorough and timely manner. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.