Outside of the government, certainly outside the Capital Beltway, few people know (or care) what OPM stands for. Or what the Office of Personnel Management does. Its predecessor agency, the old Civil Service Commission, sort of defined itself. But OPM sounds like OMB, OFC, OSC and a dozen other alphabet-soup federal agencies.
For federal and postal workers, and for government retirees or their survivors, OPM is critical to their careers and their golden years.
Over the years the CSC/OPM has had an interesting assortment of leaders ranging from the colorful to the forgettable. All had some political connection to the White House or the party-in-power’s national committee.
It is one of those federal operations where the director’s personality as well as goals, make a big difference.
Some OPM directors actually liked federal workers and wanted the civil service to be the best place to work.
A couple made no secret of their distaste for feds.
One had a body guard because, he thought (and he was correct) that he needed a bodyguard.
Another happily led the administration’s downsizing campaign by cutting OPM almost in half.
One director got in hot water when she diplomatically urged feds — starting with OPM workers — to exercise and shed some weight. She was light years ahead of First Lady Michelle Obama. Unfortunately for her, too many years ahead.
Some OPM chiefs were skillful administrators, some even idealistic. Others were political care-takers without much input of their own. One headed the merit system by day, then went over to the White House evenings to handle patronage matters! Go figure!
Then there is John Berry. His four-year term is up next week and insiders say he hasn’t asked to be renewed. The Washington Post has speculated he might be named ambassador to Australia. Wherever he winds up, the expression “hard act to follow” comes to mind.
While some kids grow up wanting to be police or firefighters, it would not be surprising to learn that young Berry, growing up in the D.C. area, set his sights on running a federal agency.
As a young man, he worked on Capitol Hill specializing in federal employee-retiree related matters. His boss, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) comes from a district chock full of feds, retirees and military personnel. They never lost sight of that fact.
When a tight-fisted Democratic President wanted to hold down federal pay raises, Berry used Hoyer’s clout to do an end-run around the White House. When the GOP controlled the White House, a ranking Republican, usually Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), led the drive for a bigger raise with Hoyer (and Berry) rallying Democratic support.
Both members worked with fed-friendly colleagues, Jim Moran (D-Va.), Tom Davis (R-Va.), Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) Connie Morella (R-Md.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and others in a bipartisan effort to do an end run around both Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush. Worked almost every time.
As OPM director, Berry has had to follow the administration course. But he got to plot some of it and occassionally minimize the adverse impact on feds that some action would have made. President Obama took Berry to at least one Cabinet meeting, a rare if not unprecedented thing for an OPM director. The implication was to the cabinet heads: If this guy calls, take the call!
So how did Berry do? What will things be like when he goes? Let us know.
The Berry Legacy: Today on our Your Turn radio show, Carol Bonosaro president of the Senior Executives Association, and William R. Dougan, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, will examine Berry’s track record at OPM and talk about what’s ahead for federal workers.
Listen if you can (1500 AM or online), and if you have questions email them to me at email@example.com or call in during the show at (202) 465-3080. The show will be archived here.
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