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Testimony

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111th Congress (2009-2010)

STATEMENT OF M. JOHN BERRY

before the

Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs

United States Senate

on

Nomination to be Director of the Office of Personnel Management

March 26, 2009

Good Morning Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee and thank you for this opportunity to appear before you. I am deeply honored to be before you today to seek your support for my nomination to be Director of the Office of Personnel Management.

My entire career has been one of public service, both as an employee and a manager. I was raised to appreciate the importance of service and the opportunity for good that it affords. My father volunteered for the Marine Corps before Pearl Harbor and was in the First Marine Division at Guadalcanal. My uncle, Jack, for whom I am named, served as a Marine fighter pilot and lost his life in battle in the Pacific. My mother worked full time as an X-ray technician, but also served with the Census Bureau in her later years.

I fondly recall how every Sunday, my parents would bring our family down to the Jefferson Memorial for the Marine Band concerts, and while passing the grand Federal office buildings along the District’s broad avenues, our father would point up at those buildings and exclaim: “The people who work there serve our country.” Thankfully, they still do today.

It was the highest honor of my life when President Obama called to ask me to serve in his Administration in this critically important position. I only wish my parents had lived to see this day, as it was their firm belief in the power of education, their love of country, and their constant and enduring love for me and my sister and brother, that made this day and opportunity possible.

Our country faces many challenges today. I believe the reason the Nation has not only faced, but overcome every challenge in our history, is because during every one of those times, men and women of good will, keen minds and strong hearts have always stepped forward to aid their Nation through service, both in Government and in our Armed Forces.

The Civil Service of today carries forward that proud American tradition. Whether it is defending our homeland against attack, restoring confidence in our financial systems and administering an historic economic stimulus effort, ensuring adequate health care for our veterans and fellow citizens or searching for cures to the diseases which plague us – we are fortunate to have our best and our brightest to rely upon. It is our people who are our most important tool in facing any challenge, and we forget that at our peril. I believe people are not merely a part of the equation, like capital or technology. They ARE the equation.

The Office of Personnel Management exists to serve those men and women and to make sure they have what they need to succeed. It is grounded in accepted truths, which this Congress firmly established in law in 1883, and we refer to today as the Merit principles. In short, they mean we will hire and maintain people based solely on their ability to do the job well, without pollution of any other extraneous and irrelevant characteristics or considerations. Teddy Roosevelt was one of the earliest Commissioners appointed to defend this new approach to Government employment, and he had to fight the prevailing approach of partisan patronage that was the rule of the day to allow the fragile new seedling of a Merit-based system to take root.

I pledge to this Committee that, if I am confirmed, I will, to the best of my abilities, work my heart out on behalf of the men and women of our Civil Service, both active and retired, and defend the Merit system with the same rigor as Roosevelt. Just as he established a firm foundation for the success of the Civil Service in the 20th Century, we must today bring the same vigor to guarantee a Civil Service ready for the challenges of the 21st Century.

Our workforce and human resource management system does not operate in a vacuum. It is connected and intertwined with every one of the President’s priorities for economic recovery, energy, transportation, education and health care. The pressures and demands on OPM are great, nearly as serious as those its predecessor—the Civil Service Commission,-successfully met in the 1930s and 1940s. I believe OPM and its talented employees are ready to rise to these new challenges once again.

We face a new reality. In the next decade, there will be a significant increase in the percentage of those eligible to retire. We need to consider and craft creative approaches that will allow us to engage the skills and experience of our own retirees and the Nation’s aging population. At the same time, we must balance our response to this trend with training, mentoring, and providing opportunities for promotion for the new generation entering and advancing through our workforce.

The youth of today may not envision staying with one employer for the entirety of their careers. We need to balance and mix flexible benefit approaches attractive to younger entrants to the workforce with our existing more traditional, tenure-like model, to appeal to the broadest possible range of workers. We need to reach out and attract the best and brightest from all backgrounds and walks of life, and recognize that, in our fast changing world, we must constantly develop job skills through training. We must also commit to training for managers to enable them to face the many complex challenges that confront them.

We need to expect the best from each and every worker, and must ensure fair and effective approaches to encouraging, evaluating, and rewarding superior performance and correcting shortfalls. In exchange, we need to provide competitive pay and benefits, healthy model workplace environments, and sensitivity to employees’ responsibilities to family and loved ones. Finally, we need to honor those who have served their country well by ensuring their dignity during their retirement.

It is my opinion that, as the Nation’s largest employer, we should be its “Model Employer.” We should seek to adopt the best practices for every piece of our human resource operation: recruitment, hiring, retention, work life and work place, pay and benefits, performance management and appraisal, discipline and removal, labor -management relations, and retirement.

My parents were Republicans, and my siblings are split between parties, and so our dinner table was a place of constant searching, discussion, and argument. I learned from those early days that no one party or person has a lock on truth, and that we need to continually search and be open to good ideas and to always consider what is the right thing to do.

One of the first things I would seek to do, if confirmed, would be to convene a good cross section of practitioners and thinkers from across the Government, the private sector, non-profit world, academia, unions and managers who can help us define “What are the current best practices in use across the Nation?” I look forward to learning from them what has worked well and what has failed. And I look forward to working with you and your staff to build a consensus for what might be possible in advancing our Government towards the title of “Model Employer.”

When I look at the Seal of the Office of Personnel Management, I am very pleased to see the Pole star, which symbolizes constancy. The Pole Star for OPM has always been and must remain, the preservation of our Merit-based approach in staffing the important offices of our Government and public service. Its four points represent for me the task before us. If we are to successfully face the challenges before us, OPM must Hire the best, Serve the best, Expect the best, and Honor the best. If we succeed, our challenges will melt to reveal opportunities, that I pray help lead us forward to ever brighter days.

I ask for your support, both now, and if confirmed, in the years ahead, as we seek to maintain the finest Civil Service in the world.

Thank you and I am prepared to answer any questions that you might have.

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