OPM’s John Berry on the short list for Australia ambassadorship

Al Kamen
Columnist March 4, 2013

We’re hearing that Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry is the leading candidate to be U.S. ambassador to Australia.

Berry had been seen as a possible pick for Interior secretary in 2008 and again in this cycle — but that nomination went most recently to Sally Jewell .

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

Berry has had a long career in government, starting on Capitol Hill as legislative director for Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) from 1985 to 1994.

Berry is up to his eyeballs in sequesterland chaos, so it was not clear when any announcement might be made.

He has also been assistant interior secretary, head of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and director of the National Zoo before taking his current job.


U.S. Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry speaks during a ceremony honoring the 69 federal civilian employees and all others slain in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 on September 09, 2011 in Washington, D.C. (Mark Gail/The Washington Post)

In 2009, the Human Rights Campaign said that, as head of OPM (once called the U.S. Civil Service Commission), Berry was the “the highest-ranking openly gay official” ever to serve in the executive branch.

We’ve written that President Obama is also looking to name his 2012 campaign fundraising chairman, Rufus Gifford, who is also openly gay, to be ambassador to Denmark.

Australia is a key ally in the Pacific, of course, and Canberra’s temps this week look to be in the high 70s and sunny.

Bye-bye, flyovers

This sequestration thing is turning into a real bummer. In yet another example of how it’s been a giant fun-ruiner (in addition to all those furloughs and pink slips), the spending cuts mean no more of those festive flyovers by the Air Force at football games and air shows.

The Air Force announced that it’s halting all such flights at least through the end of the fiscal year in September. The Air Force’s Thunderbirds, the globe-traveling aerial demonstration team known for its dizzying tricks (a.k.a “America’s Ambassadors in Blue”), will be grounded, too.

What will be the next victim of that swinging budgetary axe? Military bands?

Even the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs has to forgo the flyovers, which were a tradition during its football season. That leaves only the school’s lonely falcon mascot to entertain fans, The Denver Post reports.

Poor bird.

Sequestered at the door

Congress has taken plenty of heat for the budget cuts. After all, the popular strain of outrage goes, they will still get their full paychecks while federal workers might not.

But hold on — lawmakers are going to feel some pain, too. A letter last week to members and their staffs announced that the sequester will mean that some entrances and checkpoints around the Capitol complex will be closed, meaning longer lines and (gasp!) wait times to enter buildings.

Members probably won’t find the lines too troublesome, as they tend to breeze by security with a flash of their coveted members’ pins. But they might find some of their favorite routes curtailed because of the door closures. And even top staffers have to go through security, so they’re likely to encounter some delays.

“While we regret inconveniences this may cause, please be assured that the safety and security of the U.S. Capitol Complex will not be compromised,” said the letter, from members of the Capitol Police Board.

This is just insult added to injury: Because of the belt-tightening, congressional trips overseas (CODELs) have been grounded, and lawmakers can’t use miljets, their most favorite mode of transportation. Where will it end?

Radio Free overlap?

Looking for budget cuts? A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report last month concluded about $149 million a year (or $1.5 billion over 10 years) could be saved by cutting duplicate services in U.S. overseas broadcasting operations.

U.S. international broadcasters — such as the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and Radio Free Asia — are overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which gets about $752 million a year in federal funds.

But “nearly two-thirds of the BBG language services” — meaning the folks who produce the news and other stories for various languages and regions — “overlap with another BBG service by providing programs to the same countries in the same languages,” the GAO found.

In addition, there are many places where people can tune in to British and German and other allied broadcasts, the report said.

The savings would amount to about 20 percent of the BBG budget, the GAO estimated. And that doesn’t even include cutting out things like Radio and TV Marti, which broadcast to Cuba but are blocked (especially TV Marti) by the Cuban government, so scarcely anyone ever gets them. They cost around $30 million a year.

The BBG says there is indeed overlap and it’s working on that, but it adds that it’s ”simplistic” to say that the savings would amount to $149 million a year and that the “overlap” doesn’t account for important differences in programming.

The GAO and the agency agree that much of the overlap is, as the BBG notes in its response, “mandated by statute,” meaning Congress.

No one seriously thinks anyone is going to shut down or even cut un-watched TV Marti. And moves to shut down any of the others are always greeted, one Senate staffer told us, by howls of “not in my galactic back yard.”

Hey. Just a great democracy in action.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop
. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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