In addition to a solid list of accomplishments, he has at least one big frustration.
His accomplishments include overhauling a long-broken federal hiring process, reinventing confusing government internship programs, cutting the time to do security-background investigations, boosting telework, instituting labor-management forums and increasing the hiring of disabled people and Hispanics.
Berry took heat for problems with USAJobs, the government’s online jobs board, and for repeated troubles with federal employee retirement processing. But he was credited for his straightforward approach to dealing with those issues. The USAJobs embarrassment was short-lived. Retirement processing problems lingered, but OPM says it cut the backlog in half in one year.
Despite all the heartburn that the system gave the newly retired, Berry’s overall record led Joseph A. Beaudoin, president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, to label him “a champion of federal workers and retirees.”
Though Berry faced major headaches from computer systems and retiree issues, his greatest frustration was something more fundamental.
“I don’t know if we succeeded in beating back those small-hearted people who somehow feel it is appropriate to denigrate public service,” he said during an interview.
“I don’t know what sort of smallness of mind or heart motivates them, but they need to understand that public service matters. And these jobs are just too important to not be able to recruit the best and the brightest to do them. . . . Do you want Homer Simpson researching cancer for your children’s diseases?”
It was President Obama, Berry’s boss, who, with congressional approval, upset federal workers by freezing their basic pay rates, a freeze now in its third year.
Obama has proposed a 1 percent pay raise for next year, paired with a requirement that employees increase contributions to their pensions.
The freeze happened on Berry’s watch, but it was largely out of his hands.
“You can’t freeze pay forever and pretend that we are going to be competitive with the Fortune 500,” he said. “This battle [to increase appreciation for federal workers] continues. I hope we have laid down some markers. . . . It’s just so important.”
He shares America’s great respect for members of the military. But he added, “I’m not sure exactly why that doesn’t translate to our men and women in civil service, who take the same oath and who, sadly, all too often pay the same ultimate price.”
On Thursday Berry unveiled a Wall of Honor memorial to the civil servants who have lost their lives in the line of duty. Just this past Saturday, civilians from the State and Defense departments were killed in Afghanistan.