Various publications covering the federal government relayed concerns by outgoing OPM director John Berry over the “denigrat[ion]” of public service while ignoring his role in the Obama Administration’s unprecedented assault on workplace protections for hundreds of thousands of civil servants, via Berry v. Conyers & Northover. (The “Berry” is for John Berry, on behalf of the Office of Personnel Management).
That case, which is currently on appeal, has generated the following comments:
Tom Devine, Government Accountability Project:
If the ruling stands, “the merit system will be history.”
Lynne Bernabei, Bernabei & Wachtel, PLLC:
[T]he Obama administration’s support of this position is an integral part of the administration’s increasing secrecy and support of a national security system that is unaccountable.
Judge Dyk, dissenting opinion in Berry v. Conyers & Northover:
The majority completely fails to come to grips with the [Civil Service Reform Act of 1978]. . . the majority’s holding effectively nullifies the statute.
Angela Canterbury, Project on Government Oversight:
Congress must legislate to overturn the wrongheaded over-reach of the Federal Circuit, . . . and to prevent agencies from arbitrarily labeling away the rights of civil servants.
None of the major publications that cover civil service issues mentioned that decision. Instead, we’re treated to this:
Federal Times, April 11, 2013:
After taking over OPM, Berry quickly became known for his optimistic and passionate speeches defending federal employees. As the political winds soured on civil servants in recent years, Berry continued speaking up for feds. At a March labor-management meeting, an angry-sounding Berry warned that the government risks becoming unable to recruit and retain a qualified workforce if it keeps freezing employees’ pay, cutting their benefits, and publicly denigrating them.
Government Executive, April 11, 2013:
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.
The biggest offender seems to be the Washington Post, which served up the following:
Though Berry faced major headaches from computer systems and retiree issues, his greatest frustration was something more fundamental.
“I don’t know if we succeeded in beating back those small-hearted people who somehow feel it is appropriate to denigrate public service,” he said during an interview.
“I don’t know what sort of smallness of mind or heart motivates them, but they need to understand that public service matters. And these jobs are just too important to not be able to recruit the best and the brightest to do them. . . . Do you want Homer Simpson researching cancer for your children’s diseases?”
It was President Obama, Berry’s boss, who, with congressional approval, upset federal workers by freezing their basic pay rates, a freeze now in its third year.
Obama has proposed a 1 percent pay raise for next year, paired with a requirement that employees increase contributions to their pensions.
The freeze happened on Berry’s watch, but it was largely out of his hands.
Meanwhile, Federal News Radio covered its flank a bit by getting positive comments from stakeholders. None of these publications, however, mentioned the decision that could gut civil service protections for hundreds of thousands of employees.
It’s difficult to square Berry’s stated concerns for public servants in the media when he’s trying to strip them of their rights in court. It’s even more difficult to see what’s in it for the free press to give him a pass.
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