"If you don't burn out prairie grass, new grass can't come back," Berry said at the event, sponsored by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. He pledged to undertake a "controlled burn" of "a lot of rules and a lot of red tape."
Berry said he wanted to act swiftly to remove regulatory barriers that prevent federal retirees from returning to the agencies where they worked to help with specific projects, and to eliminate rules making it difficult for agencies to retain talented interns. He also called for changes so veterans returning from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan will be able to find jobs that suit their skills and interests in agencies outside the Defense Department.
In addition to pursuing regulatory changes, Berry said he intended to institute dramatic changes at his own agency, beginning with an ambitious reform of work-life balance programs. He said he would give OPM's current work-life programs a grade of D+, "maybe, if I'm being generous."
Berry said OPM would work with Interior and GSA to create a set of model programs for the 7,000 employees who work at the three agencies' headquarters, which are located within blocks of each other in Washington. His goal, he said, was to turn the three workplaces into a "utopia" within 12 months.
Though he did not detail in his remarks the pilot programs he intends to set up, Berry said in an interview afterward that he expects to begin by improving the quality of a health clinic that serves the agencies.
The approach Berry outlined would mirror his approach to work-life balance programs as an assistant secretary at the Interior Department during the Clinton administration. In that position, Berry held a series of town hall meetings to determine employees' needs and based on their suggestions, upgraded the department's cafeteria and health clinic.
The initiative also responds to priorities set by First Lady Michelle Obama, who urged a focus on work-life programs during a visit to OPM in April, and concerns expressed by Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, about the internal management of OPM at Berry's confirmation hearing in March.
"I think the best way you can help other agencies is to get your agency working in terms of management and in terms of employee satisfaction so you can use your agency as a role model," Voinovich told Berry. "You're going to have to spend the next couple of years shaping that joint up."