OPM file photo

OPM Director Berry Bids Farewell to Employees

General Counsel Elaine Kaplan will take over as acting head of the agency next week.

Elaine Kaplan, currently general counsel at the Office of Personnel Management, will take over as acting director of the agency next week.

OPM Director John Berry formally announced his departure from the agency in an April 11 email to employees. Kaplan, who has been at the agency since March 2009, starts Monday as acting director.

Berry’s four-year term is up on April 13. While he’s eligible to be re-nominated to the job, the long-time public servant is reportedly on the short list to be President Obama’s ambassador to Australia. Berry praised OPM’s workforce in his email, and listed several accomplishments during his tenure, including streamlining the federal hiring process, tackling the retirement claims and security clearance backlogs, and championing access to health benefits for the same-sex partners of federal employees.

“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 in the message with the subject line, “A Fond Farewell.”

Berry’s tenure at the agency has been productive, though not without challenges or controversy. Many federal retirees still wait several months for their retirement applications to be processed fully and accurately, despite the progress OPM has made in chipping away at the decades-old backlog. And in 2011, Berry had to deal with a disastrous relaunch of the popular USAJobs site, which prompted complaints and criticism from users.

Still, the former director of the National Zoo can count many successes at OPM, among them diversifying the Senior Executive Service, increasing the federal government’s hiring of veterans and improving the federal security clearance process and getting it removed from the Government Accountability Office’s high-risk list. Berry also eliminated the cumbersome knowledge, skills and abilities part of federal job applications, replacing it with resumes, and enhanced the annual federal employee viewpoint survey.

Berry has been a vocal champion for federal workers during the last four years, and has a good reputation among lawmakers on Capitol Hill. His exit comes just as federal employees at a number of agencies are starting to feel the effects of sequestration, including furloughs.

"On behalf of the active and retired federal employees who serve Americans from every corner of our country, we thank John Berry for standing by federal workers' side during a time when many others in Washington failed to see their full value," said Bruce Moyer, chairman of the Federal-Postal Coalition. "It has been a privilege to work with him and we wish him all the best in his future endeavors." The group represents 4.6 million feds, retirees and postal workers through various organizations.

Kaplan is a former senior deputy general counsel for the National Treasury Employees Union and served as the head of the Office of Special Counsel during the Clinton administration.