Happy Warrior

John Berry's positive attitude might be put to the test soon.

In the photo on the cover of this magazine, Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry looks pretty much like he always does-smiling, upbeat, positive. Here's what he doesn't look like: a guy whose workday started with a conference call at 3:30 a.m.

But that's exactly how Berry's day began when he was photographed. On just one in a long string of lousy weather days in Washington this winter, he had to perform one of the least enviable duties in government: making a judgment call on the operating status of federal agencies in the national capital area. (That day, he decided the government would be open, with employees allowed to take unscheduled leave.)

Berry, as Alyssa Rosenberg makes clear in our cover story this month, is a man who clearly likes coming to work, even if work starts in the middle of the night. And he never seems to have a bad day. That's a good thing, because he's also a guy with a lot on his plate-much of it consisting of initiatives he put there himself. These include everything from expanding telework and promoting the hiring of veterans to overhauling OPM's organizational structure.

Luckily, Berry works for a president who has declared he wants to make working for government "cool." But President Obama also is no knee-jerk supporter of the people who work for him. Like other recent presidents (especially Democratic ones), he wants to leverage the power of the bureaucracy to achieve his aims, but he's not above criticizing his own workforce. Witness Obama's response to the attempted bombing of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day: He was quick to point out failures-and not just in systems, but of the people running them.

Right now, Obama and Berry are still in the early stages of implementing their plans for the federal workforce. So federal employees have tended to give them the benefit of the doubt on a whole range of policy moves, from breaking the traditional link between military and civilian pay raises this year to gingerly approaching the subject of overhauling the systems governing federal hiring, pay and performance management. But don't expect the good feeling to last for Obama's entire term.

Berry says one of his advantages is he has not had to be a John the Baptist in government, converting its leaders to the importance of personnel management issues. But at some point, he is going to have to gain the support of employees and labor leaders to the cause of reform-not to mention the even bigger task of winning over members of Congress across the political spectrum. That will be the true test of his sunny, optimistic outlook.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec