Berry: Events offer 'teaching moment' on feds' contributions

Wednesday - 5/4/2011, 9:13pm EDT

John Berry, Director, Office of Personnel Management

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OPM Director John Berry in the Federal News Radio studio with Your Turn host Mike Causey. (May 4, 2011)

By Jolie Lee
Federal News Radio

The death of Osama bin Laden united the country in celebrating the work of federal employees who protect the nation. The news also coincides with Public Service Recognition Week.

John Berry, director of the Office of Personnel Management, said the events offer "a teaching moment" of the contributions federal employees make.

"God bless our Navy SEALs who went in there and took out this enemy of humanity," Berry said in an interview on Your Turn with Mike Causey. "But behind them were men and women in the foreign service, the State Department, all of our intelligence agencies, the Defense Department, civilians throughout who over the past decade have tirelessly pursued this individual."

Berry pointed out that 100,000 civilians have been on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Warfighting in the modern era, in the 21st century is no longer done by just our men and women in uniform. It is also a much more significant engagement of our civil service. I don't think Americans know that," Berry said.

Like the Purple Heart in the military, Berry said civilian employees deserve a similar type of honor.

"There's got a be a way that we as a society can come together to honor anyone who risks their lives for our safety and our good," he said.

Budget cuts, fed sacrifices

As Congress returns to session this week to tackle the budget, Berry said federal employees understand they must make sacrifices. Feds already are under a two-year pay freeze.

Berry said a "big portion" of the budget is salaries and expenses. However, more pay freezes and other spending cuts at agencies will impact recruitment and retention, Berry said.

"I know the President understands this. I hope the other negotiators involved in this process will bring that same spirit," he said.

Under increasing pressure to cut spending, some lawmakers introduced bills that attack federal pay and benefits. These proposals come with claims that federal employees are overpaid and underworked.

Berry said these claims are "cheap potshots."

"They're wrong, there's no basis in fact for them, it's hyperbole and [people who make these claims] ought to stand down," he said.

Hiring reform

One of the biggest successes in federal hiring has been veteran hiring, particularly the hiring of disabled vets. Although the government hired 11,000 less federal employees last year, it also hired more than 2,000 more veterans, Berry said. Overall, 30 percent of new hires were veterans last year, he said. Berry added that OPM had the highest percentage of disabled vets hiring of all agencies.

Veterans are "valued, experienced and trained - that's the mantra I use for the vet," Berry said.

OPM is working on creating mentorship programs for veterans who will transition into a civilian agency, he said.

Agencies have also cut down hiring times. The goal is 80 days, and currently the government is down to 100 days, Berry said. Employers are also simplifying the hiring process by using shorter position descriptions and plain English, Berry said.

Overall, agencies are all moving in the right direction, he said.

"I would describe it as a triple, not a homerun yet. But we're on base and that's good," Berry said.

The way agencies hire young people has also gone through reforms. Earlier this year, the Pathways Program replaced the embattled Federal Career Internship Program as a way to bring in students and recent graduates. Under Pathways, the government will also "revitalize" the Presidential Management Fellowship, allowing agencies to "interview and hire immediately out of the pool," Berry said.

"We need to make sure are always welcoming to the next generation because we need new blood, new talent, new ideas always joining the federal family," Berry said.

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