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OPM’s Berry speaks to U-Md. graduates

By — Lisa Rein and — Steve Vogel,

John Berry, the federal government’s personnel chief, challenged graduating seniors at the University of Maryland on Sunday to “heal the nation” and “get beyond the yelling and finger-pointing” that divides Washington and the country.

“I want you to break the gridlock that is now too common,” Berry, chief of the Office of Personnel Management, told almost 8,000 graduating seniors and graduate students at the commencement ceremony in College Park.

“Here is your challenge,” he said. “Heal the nation. No one party has a lock on the truth. Our debates need a lot less anger and irony and a lot more humility.”

Berry, 53, a U-Md. alumnus and Rockville native, is speaking at six graduations this spring, including Georgia State University and California State University at Fullerton. He is the highest-ranking openly gay presidential appointee, and at Sunday’s ceremony, he spoke about his journey as a gay man.

“I grew up at a time when being gay was not okay,” he told the crowd.

One of his goals in speaking to graduates is to sell the idea of a career in the federal government. OPM has recently revamped a series of internships and entry-level programs for young people called “Pathways.”

President Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and other administration officials also are giving commencement addresses this spring.

Those other officials include Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.

Sebelius was at the center of controversy recently when leaders of the Catholic Church objected to Georgetown University’s invitation for her to speak at a graduation ceremony because of her role in implementing a law requiring employers offer contraceptive coverage regardless of their religious beliefs.

Her speech on Friday was heckled by a person who was escorted out of the ceremony. Sebelius was applauded as she returned to her speech.

— Lisa Rein

House votes to expand foreclosure protections

The House overwhelmingly passed an amendment Friday that would expand foreclosure protections for service members, their families and disabled veterans.

The legislation was attached to the National Defense Authorization Act, which the House passed Friday.

The amendment extends existing protections in the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act to troops serving in support of contingency operations, surviving spouses of service members whose deaths are service-related, and veterans who are 100 percent disabled at the time of discharge because of service-connected injuries.

“Our troops fighting overseas in Iraq or Afghanistan should not also have to fight here at home just to keep a roof over the heads of their loved ones,” said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Cummings and Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) issued a report in 2011 charging that multiple banks had illegally foreclosed on service members and charged excessive fees in violation of the SCRA.

— Steve Vogel

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