John Berry, director of the Office of Personnel Management stopped by AFGE national headquarters this afternoon and addressed several concerns by district and union leaders about fairness towards employees, insubordination, and the looming “fiscal cliff”. The National Executive Council meeting was led by AFGE National President J. David Cox, Sr. who kept Berry focused on answering lingering concerns by employees that have yet to be adequately addressed. Several newly elected district leaders were also present at the meeting and offered a passionate call to action to both OPM and the Obama Administration as it moves into it’s second term.
With the “fiscal cliff” less than a month away and over $100 million dollars in the legally mandated sequester scheduled to kick in on January 2, 2013, the first priority at the NEC meeting was clear. Berry suggested the issue will be best resolved with the 2014 federal budget as government agencies across the board work out the best possible plan that works for management, employees, and the American people themselves. However, budget talks have been tabled as Congress hashes out a deal. The Office of Personnel Management, the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Defense (in which, half of the planned cuts are to come) are the key players within the government deciding the impact of the sequester, but Berry announced that the ball is really in Congress’ court.
“It’s important to remember that first and foremost a deal is possible; I don’t think we have to worry about this,” said Berry. If a decision is not reached before Christmas or the January deadline, all agencies must submit their plan of action to Congress by the end of January. Reiterating that the sequester is not the same as a government shutdown, Berry suggested that lawmakers will have until the end of that month to come up with an alternative deal.
“You always have an open door with me,” said Berry at the meeting. President Cox explained, “We want full MSB rights for our members of the TSA.” When asked if he could guarantee that could happen he remarked “a big part of today is, I’m here to listen”, causing a brief chuckle from the members. “Where’s my pen?”, said Berry. With the heads of several locals present, they addressed MSB rights and ULPs.
“We need someone to hold managers accountable as it’s a wasting of taxpayer money if we file ULPs but agencies keep doing same thing,” said National Vice President Arnold R. Scott of District 6.
Berry pledged to address this as well as concerns that President Barack Obama’s executive orders are not being adequately being followed, especially in regards to political appointees attaining longer and permanent positions. Berry reiterated the president’s commitment to his executive orders and said the agency is moving from a reactionary stance on the matter to one that outsmarts the offenders.
“We don’t just send letters, we meet with them at the White House and layout what changes we expect from them,” said Berry. “This has worked in most cases.”
Berry, one of the President’s first openly-gay political appointees, was also questioned over the sharing of benefits between same-sex and domestic partnerships. The OPM Director said that he and President Obama strongly support the idea, but admitted that they are constrained by Congress until there is a change to the Defense of Marriage Act.
“I have a partner who pays 100% into (his health insurance) and we’ve been together for 16 years and he’s not going anywhere,” Berry said. “I get this issue and I hear about this every night.”
Pressing further, one representative asked, “So for Christmas 2013 then.” Berry, replied “Yes, I hope so.”
As the administration moves into it’s second term there are many changes expected not only in agency leadership, but in how the government is run internally. With a recent report by OPM showing severe declines in morale amongst federal employees across the board, change is urgently needed.
“Let’s wait until the new team is in place before we act,” said Berry. “I would hate to have the ink still wet from a really good deal, before a new team comes in and you have to start from scratch.”
One local president from West Point, countered, keeping Berry and OPM’s feet to the fire.
“Gone are the days of union activists and obstructionists; I think we can do this by sitting down and hashing this out if we’re allowed to,” he said. “But it’s getting pretty darn frustrating.”
You can find more photo’s of today’s meeting on our AFGE Photostream on flickr.