April 11, 2013 | by Chris Johnson
Berry to exit this week as OPM director
John Berry, gay news, Washington Blade

John Berry is departing as OPM director at the end of this week. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The official who’s considered the highest-ranking openly gay member of the Obama administration is set to leave his post as director of the Office of Personnel Management at the end of this week.

In an email to workers within the agency, Berry talks of his plans to leave his position at the end of his term after four years of service. The email was first reported by Federal News Radio.

“From my first day on the job through to today, I’ve known that I could count on this team to accomplish great things,” Berry wrote. “Together we undertook big challenges. We aimed to simplify and speed hiring, to boost hiring among Veterans and Americans with disabilities, to catch up and keep up with both retirement and background investigations, and to expand access to health insurance. We’ve done all that and more — much more.”

In the message, Berry says OPM General Counsel Elaine Kaplan, who’s also gay, will take over as acting director. Last month, President Obama nominated her for a seat on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

Berry took on the job on April 13, 2009, so his departure will be nearly four years to the day that he started the role. According to Federal News Radio, Berry informed the Chief Human Capital Officers Council earlier this month of his intention to leave. The news outlet also states the position of OPM director is limited to a four-year term, and although Obama can extend the term through re-nomination, there is no indication he will do so.

In a statement on Friday, President Obama praised Berry for his work at OPM, saying he’s “served the American people well” as head of the agency.

“He’s streamlined the way federal employees are hired, modernized the workplace, made the federal workforce more diverse, and increased the number of returning servicemembers hired by the government,” Obama said. “John has been a champion for federal workers – men and women who devote their lives to vital tasks like securing our borders, curing disease, and keeping the American people safe.  This country is better off because of John’s talent and dedication, and I’m grateful to him for his service.”

Under Berry’s tenure at OPM, Obama issued a memorandum extending limited benefits to federal workers with same-sex partners. Additionally, OPM proposed a rule that would enable gay federal workers to cover the children of their same-sex partners under federal health insurance.

Berry has been active as an adviser on LGBT issues for the administration. The OPM director was present at the meeting in which White House officials informed LGBT advocates it won’t issue at this time an executive order barring LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors, and Berry also took part in a White House meeting with transgender advocates on the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

The Washington Post reported last month that Berry is in the running for the nomination as U.S. ambassador to Australia. His name has often been floated for other positions within the administration — such as secretary of the interior, which ultimately went to Washington State-based businessperson Sally Jewell. Had Berry been chosen, he would have been the first openly gay Cabinet member in the nation’s history.

It’s unclear who’ll be the highest-ranking openly LGBT person within the Obama administration upon Berry’s departure. That distinction may go to Fred Hochberg, who serves as head of the U.S. Export-Import Bank.

Berry’s complete farewell email to employees follows:

As many of you know, my term as Director of OPM will shortly come to a close.  Starting April 15th, Elaine Kaplan will serve as Acting Director – and I know that each of you will be just as helpful to her as you’ve been for me.

From my first day on the job through to today, I’ve known that I could count on this team to accomplish great things.

Together we undertook big challenges.  We aimed to simplify and speed hiring, to boost hiring among Veterans and Americans with disabilities, to catch up and keep up with both retirement and background investigations, and to expand access to health insurance

We’ve done all that and more – much more.

Today we handle over 2 million background investigations a year so smoothly that we’ve taken the issue off the GAO list.

We’ve eliminated KSA’s and moved to the world of the resume. We’ve given our applicants the respect of timely responses and concise job announcements.  More than three-quarters of our job announcements were longer than 5 pages in 2009 –now 69% are shorter than 5 pages.  We relaunched –and repaired – USAJOBS, and have now processed over 29 million applications since the update, with feedback that’s better than ever.

We’ve raised the bar in big ways on hiring Veterans – from 24% of new hires in 2009 to 28.3% in 2011, and even higher preliminary numbers in 2012, reaching all-time highs.  Likewise, we’ve lifted hiring of Americans with disabilities to all-time highs, at 7.96% of all new hires.  Including Veterans who are 30% or more disabled, people with disabilities now represent 14.7% of all new hires – also an all-time high.

We’ve revitalized our appeal for students and recent graduates, with three clear and streamlined pathways that will keep the best talent coming into public service.  We’ve taken the lead in boosting diversity and inclusion, with comprehensive plans from every agency, and partnerships both in and out of government.  We’ve expanded benefits for same-sex partners of Federal employees to the full extent allowed by law.

We’ve set the Senior Executive Service on a new path to fulfill old principles, with a strengthened merit system, new and better training programs, and an increasingly inclusive culture across agencies – bringing more women and minorities into the SES than ever in its history.

We’ve made Federal health insurance possible for firefighters and emergency response workers, and for over 10,000 tribal employees.  On an overhead of less than 0.1% of premiums, we’ve kept premium increases for our 8 million FEHBP members well below the industry average – just 3.4% in each of the past two years.  We stood up the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Program, and we’re on our way to certifying quality health insurance plans for the multi-state programs that open this fall.

We’ve systematically worked our way through the backlog in retirement applications, with partners and process changes that met even the challenge of extra retirements from Postal Service buyouts.  We gained a new phased retirement authority that’s sure to help smooth transitions and transfer institutional memory through part-time work for aging employees and mentorships for those who take over the reins.

We launched the Feds Feeds Families drive, gathering almost 16 million pounds of food and non-perishables for needy families across the nation.

We brought labor and management together to agree on the GEAR framework for performance management.

We undertook the largest-ever employee viewpoint survey – and at the same time saw our agency climb up the standings to become one of the Federal Government’s best places to work.  We’ve used employee wellness programs to quit smoking and lose weight.

We’ve brought our agency website forward at least a decade in both appearance and utility, and we’ve learned the ways of social media to help spread our messages far and wide.  Through the CHCO Council and HRU, we’ve saved over $55 million on training, and we’ve proved to agencies that we’re here to help.

We’ve started the ball rolling on changes that will help the Combined Federal Campaign continue its success as the world’s biggest workplace charity drive by making sure that every last dime of employees’ donations go into the charities they’ve chosen.

We’ve weathered a storm or two – even an earthquake – and we’ve expanded telework to keep agencies achieving their missions, no matter what the weather.

We’ve brought great ideas in from the private sector in the form of our Innovation Lab, a place and an approach that is already generating new approaches and new savings.

Through it all, it’s been a tremendous honor to serve as your leader.

Your achievements are many and magnificent – and I deeply appreciate the work you’ve done to make it all possible.

Your grateful Director,

John Berry

 

UPDATE: This article has been updated to include a statement from President Obama.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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