“He’s had tough duty,” said Max Stier, president and chief executive of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit organization that studies the federal workplace.
“This has been a time of great turmoil for the federal workforce. It was an ugly hand he was dealt, and from that standpoint, he has done quite well.” (The Post has a content-sharing relationship with the Partnership).
Leaders of employee groups generally support Berry, their comments ranging from muted to more effusive.
The nation’s financial troubles prevented him “from pursuing anything that would improve the economic well-being of federal employees,” said a statement from J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees. He also congratulated Berry for seeking to equalize benefits for federal employees in same-sex relationships.
Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, was a bit more supportive, praising Berry as “a staunch defender of the federal workforce” and for his “assertive steps to ensure the voices of frontline federal employees are heard at the highest levels of agencies.”
Bruce Moyer, chairman of the Federal-Postal Coalition, thanked Berry “for standing by federal workers’ side,” adding, “It has been a privilege to work with him.”
Under Berry, an openly gay man who was a top Obama adviser on gay and lesbian issues, the administration secured some benefits for same-sex couples but could not finish the job because of the Defense of Marriage Act. That law defines marriage as between a man and a woman for federal purposes.
He said the funniest or most ironic aspect of his tenure as the highest-ranking openly gay man in the government is being named a defendant in numerous lawsuits against DOMA.
One of his most poignant moments as OPM chief was delivering an apology on behalf of the U.S. government to Frank Kameny, an activist who was fired from the Army Map Service in 1957 because he was gay. Delivering the apology “was an amazing gift I will always treasure,” Berry said.
When Berry leaves his office — which has a bust of Teddy Roosevelt on the desk and one of George Washington along the wall — the OPM director’s trail will be marked by five executive orders and four presidential memorandums on federal workforce issues.
“There’s been no other OPM tenure period,” he said, “that has had the engagement of the president, the engagement of the White House” as actively on federal workplace issues.
The last of the executive orders called for greater diversity in the federal workforce. Berry has emphasized Uncle Sam’s need to improve the hiring of the disabled and Hispanics. OPM held the first federal disability hiring fair and says that “new hires among people with disabilities are at 20-year highs.”
Although Latinos remain vastly underrepresented in the federal workforce, particularly in the Senior Executive Service, Berry’s work is praised by Gilbert Sandate, chairman of the Coalition for Fairness for Hispanics in Government.
“Out of the four or five OPM directors we have worked with in the last 20 to 25 years, John Berry probably is the most committed to trying to address issues of diversity in the federal workforce, especially on the issue of Hispanic representation,” Sandate said. He is a member of the Hispanic Council on Federal Employment, a body Berry created.
The first of the executive orders has the title “Employment of Veterans in the Federal Government.” Increasing that employment is Berry’s “proudest accomplishment.”
“A lot of people over the years have talked about veterans’ hiring,” he said. “We did it.”
In 2009, 24 percent of new hires were veterans, according to OPM data. That rose to 28.3 percent in 2011, “the highest since the Vietnam era,” OPM said.
The number for 2012, when finalized, will be better than 2011’s, Berry said. Increasing hiring by about 5 percent “in the federal government, that’s a big step in a four-year period,” he added.
Joseph C. Sharpe, director of the American Legion’s economic division, said he is “very impressed and pleased with Mr. Berry and his attempts to ensure veterans were hired throughout the federal government. “Hate to see him go,” Sharpe said.
Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson.