OPM Dir. Berry: End attacks on feds!

Tuesday - 7/21/2009, 7:01am EDT

WFED's Max Cacas

The head of the Office of Personnel Management says enough is enough.

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By Max Cacas
FederalNewsRadio


John Berry, the head of the Office of Personnel Management, has been on the job for about six months. Yesterday, he used a speech before a conference of federal managers and workers to discuss how he really feels about the millions of people who make up the federal workforce.

Much of what Director Berry had to say about his plans to improve the federal workforce has been heard as far back as his Senate confirmation hearing last January, but about three minutes into his talk before the Second annual Excellence in Government conference, sponsored by the Government Executive Media Group, Berry began to speak with a real passion about the accomplishments of federal workers.

Federal workers helped create the Internet, and now we're using it to make government run more efficiently and save taxpayer money. Dick Gregg is a great example. He was a civil servant for more than 40 years, finishing his career as Commissioner of the Treasury Department's Financial Management Service.

Before he retired in 2006, Dick moved the Treasury toward an all-electronic payment system that handles trillions of dollars in taxes and is saving us hundreds of millions of dollars in transaction costs.

William D. Phillips, a career researcher at the National Institute of Standards and Technology is a federal worker and a Nobel Prize winner. Dr. Phillips is remarkable not only for his research in the area of quantum computing, but also for giving back to his community. When NIST nominated him as a distinguished civil servant, they noted that he took the time to speak at high schools and a rural community center - not necessarily stops on the physicist's normal lecture circuit.

I should also mention that one of Dr. Phillips' co-awardees for the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics is now our Secretary of Energy, Dr. Steven Chu.

But the OPM Director also used the unusually passionate speech to push back hard against those who routinely use feds as convenient political punching bags.

For over 30 years, Federal workers and the work we do have been denigrated and disparaged. We've been called "out of touch," "unaccountable," "lazy," "blood-sucking," and worse. The phrase "good enough for government work," has been turned on its head, stolen and made into an epithet - a catchphrase for mediocrity. During World War II, it was the standard for excellence in manufacturing - good enough to protect our servicemen in battle. Good enough to rebuild our allies when the war was over. Good enough to bring mankind to the moon and back safely.

It's time we reclaimed that meaning. It's time the denigration ends.

This isn't merely a matter of pride; it's a matter of necessity. The broadsides of the last 30 years have not only hurt morale, recruitment and, I believe, retention; ultimately, they've inhibited our ability to deliver the best service to the American people.

I argue today that the premise of these attacks was not only misguided - it was completely wrong. The American people were sold a bill of goods. Federal workers are not second class or inferior to workers in the private sector, and we never were.

Berry also reminded his audience that federal workers lost their lives at the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, American embassies in 1998, and of course, in the 9/11 attacks.

Later, during a question and answer session, Berry declined to talk about the Defense Business Board's recent decision to try to fix the Pentagon's NSPS "pay for performance system", telling FederalNewsRadio that he wants to wait for the board's final report before commenting.

He spoke of his recent meeting with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and a novel plan to help agencies share what he calls "work-life" resources.

He said that he and Secretary Salazar are exploring how federal agencies within close proximity to each other might share facilities like gyms or health care centers.

As an example, he says the Interior Department has an excellent exercise facility; why not, he says, have neighboring OPM, the Federal Reserve, and the General Services Administration, pool their resources to help Interior keep its gym a state-of-the-art facility shared by workers from all four agencies?

Berry also says that in September or October, he expects to convene a special conference, hosted by Harvard University, and "chaired by the Dean of the Kennedy School, David Elwood; former Maryland Senator Paul Sarbanes; and Laszlo Bock, the head of people programs for Google. "

Berry says the meeting will explore what the federal government needs to do to reach his goal of becoming, "America's model employer of the 21st century."

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On the Web:

FederalNewsRadio - Full text of Dir. Berry's speech (doc)

FederalNewsRadio - Agencies consider transforming the federal workplace

FederalNewsRadio - OPM Director John Berry chats with Mike Causey (May 13, 2009)

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