Gay and lesbian leaders are praising President Obama's pick of John Berry to lead the Office of Personnel Management -- a position that directly affects LGBT people due to its jurisdiction over the treatment of millions of federal employees. Friends say Berry, who has run the Smithsonian's National Zoological Park since 2005 and served as assistant secretary of the Interior during the Clinton administration, has managed hundreds of employees and has extensive experience handling workplace inequalities faced by LGBT individuals as well as women, people with disabilities, and other segments of the workforce not fully protected under the law. OPM, which is generally responsible for filling agency vacancies, developing performance review processes, administering benefits, and overseeing nondiscrimination policies, is essentially the federal government's human resources department. Enacting domestic-partner benefits or gender identity protections would send an important message to the nation that this is the standard for all employers, not the exception. OPM policies also influence the State Department's treatment of the partners of gay and lesbian Foreign Service officers, which became a lightning-rod issue in the Bush administration.
The potential is great, but between updating the government's stagnant personnel policies and overhauling its outdated data management system, the challenges are many. "John is showing his loyalty to his country by giving up what might be one of the most fun jobs in the world, which he truly loves, for what is going to be a very difficult position," says Leonard Hirsch, president of Federal GLOBE, a group that represents GLBT government employees. Before joining the zoo, Berry was executive director of the National Fish and Wildlife Association, and earlier in his career worked for Rep. Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat who is now House majority leader. Those who know Berry say he is "extremely ethical," "level-headed," and a consummate consensus builder. "Working for John must be a pleasure. He's someone who puts himself second and puts the organization he works for first," one friend says. At press time, Berry's nomination still awaited Senate confirmation.