Can East Meet West at Interior?

It may be that the only thing standing between Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry and the top job at the Interior Department is the Mississippi River curse!

Some say the only thing holding him back is that he was born in Rockville, Md., 53 years ago. If, instead, he hailed from Cody, Wyo. or Santa Fe, N.M., his nomination would be a no-brainer.

For the past few weeks, the buzz in Washington is that Berry, who had a top job at Interior during the Clinton administration would be named to succeed Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, himself from Colorado. Berry has gotten high marks in running the little-known (outside of Washington) Office of Personnel Management. It’s core mission involves the care and feeding of federal workers and retirees. It doesn’t rank near the top of places that most high-office wannabes want to be. Unless…

  • A) They dislike and mistrust big government, and feel that the civil service is a giant socialist nursery that should be isolated and cut back in size. There have been a couple of OPM directors that took the job because they welcomed the challenge of wrestling the bureaucratic beast.
  • B) They’ve spent years studying management and policies at the government-level and see the federal civil service as a giant lab or petri dish. There have been a couple of those too.
  • C) They are someone with good political credentials who’s been a loyal operative for and donor to the party in power. This type of office-seeker simply wants to come to D.C. with a high-ranking government job with a title. One that guarantees invitations to places with free food. The initials or mission of the agency matter little. Feds have had them too.
  • D) Finally there is the true believer. Someone who didn’t have to look up the definition for OPM. They think the government has the right and duty to do things for people. This type of person knows/likes federal workers. He or she has the been-there-done-that credentials and believes that better people make a better government. In other words, you are John Berry.

Berry spent years on Capitol Hill specializing in federal-employee retiree matters for Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). Hoyer, now the minority whip of the House, made it a point (using Berry as his agent in charge) of outfoxing President Bill Clinton who tried to freeze and hold down federal pay. When the Democrats ran the House, Hoyer (with Berry in the background) twisted colleagues’ arms to win bigger raises for feds. When the Republicans were in control, Hoyer worked with ranking, pro-fed Republicans, like Frank Wolf of Virginia, to win bigger raises by doing political end-runs around President George W. Bush.


When he left Capitol Hill, Berry went to the Treasury Department then Interior. He eventually got what many people say is the best job in Washington: director of the National Zoo. He reportedly loved it, reorganized the place and — after he left for OPM — the staff named a lion cub after him. Associates say that when Barack Obama was elected president, Berry was offered a couple of second-tier jobs, but held out because he wanted to be the head of an agency.

OPM was the logical top job. Interior would be too, insiders say, except he is an East Coast guy and secretary of the Interior is traditionally a westerner. In modern times, most secretaries have come from Colorado, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon and Wyoming. The closest appointees from the “east” came from Kansas or Illinois. A Kentucky-born Maryland resident was named secretary, but it helped, immensely as in a lot, that his brother was a powerful U.S. senator. One Virginia resident got the job in the last century. But it turns out he had grown up in Oregon and was appointed from that state.

For a look at Berry’s geographical odds, click here.


By Jack Moore

The two lions “guarding” the entrance to the New York Public Library on 42nd Street in Manhattan are named Patience and Fortitude.

(Source: New York Public Library)


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