John Berry, director of the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, is close to being named head of the Office of Personnel Management.
A Tuesday morning report in The Washington Post said President-elect Barack Obama had offered the top job to Berry and that he had accepted it. Zoo spokeswoman Pamela Baker-Masson said that as of Tuesday morning that characterization was inaccurate. But later in the day she confirmed that "things have progressed significantly" on the nomination front, though any official announcement would come from Obama's transition team.
The Obama transition team said they would not comment on nominations prior to official announcements.
Michael Orenstein, a spokesman for the Office of Personnel Management, said he had not been told that a new OPM director had been chosen.
"Honestly, I've not heard a thing," he said.
Beth Moten, legislative and political director of the American Federation of Government Employees, said she had heard Berry's name mentioned for the OPM position during conversations about the transition.
In his current position, Berry is guiding the National Zoo through a strategic planning and modernization process, and is no stranger to federal management. He was legislative director for nine years in the personal office of House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. During that time, Berry played a lead staff role in the negotiations that led to the 1990 Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act, which established the locality pay system.
Both AFGE's Moten and National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley said their unions had worked closely with Berry when he served in Hoyer's office, and praised his knowledge of federal employee and government management issues. Kelley said Berry was "fair and determined in his pursuit of good government."
Moten said AFGE's experience working with him was "a hand-in-glove kind of relationship. To say he was involved in our issues doesn't even scratch the surface."
Berry also served as assistant secretary for policy, management and budget at the Interior Department during the Clinton administration. He then served as executive director of the congressionally chartered National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, where he led a reorganization of the financial system and completed a strategic plan.
While at Interior, Berry oversaw the expansion of the department's programs to improve employees' work-life balance. He held town hall meetings with Interior employees, and used their suggestions to upgrade a cafeteria and health center, and also improved its credit union and continuing education options. Many of those enhancements were funded through partnerships with federal employees, unions and other agencies -- reducing costs to the department.
Berry also helped establish an office supply store for Interior employees, which he staffed with blind and disabled workers.
"He has significant management experience and knows what it takes to run a federal agency," Kelley said.
AFGE President John Gage also praised Berry. "He's smart, courageous, and on top of that, a really nice person," Gage said.