After releasing some preliminary notes about the federal employee benefits memorandum President Obama will sign today, OPM director John Berry just held a media conference call and explained a few more details about what to expect. Hint: Not a whole lot more than you thought.
Why is this a memorandum (which expires after Obama’s term)? And not an executive order?
“A presidential memorandum has the same standing as an executive order … and has the same impact. … [It] has strong standing. This is linked directly with the law.”
Was signing this memo a reaction to criticism from the gay community that’s been brewing?
“On the timing, I’m entering my 8th week on the job, this administration is still in its early days. We just recently the 100 day mark. These things, we have to move and do analysis and care on them. We have been looking at them and working together with various counsels, the DOJ, State Dept … this has been underway for many months. When we completed our work and made our recommendations to the president … he agreed and adopted them.”
There’s a concern that Obama’s announcement is granting benefits that federal employees already enjoy, provided to them under the Clinton administration. Are you really creating new benefits?
“The president is making the anti-discrimination thing very clear. … Gender identity will be added and made very clear in our guidance to federal agencies. Our argument is that is based on legal authority … that way it does not limit itself to the term of an administration … that is a new approach and a new argument. … What you have described has … been subject to the whim of a supervisor. If you have an enlightened supervisor, yes, that is a possibility [for same-sex partners to receive benefits and to take leave for a partner’s ill child]. … What the president is doing today is making this no longer optional, he’s making this mandatory … it’s now the policy of the federal government. This is the president of the United States confirming a mandatory right. … I think history is going to reflect that.”
Is gender identity part of this?
“It would certainly be my expectation.”
What do you say to gays who say it doesn’t go far enough?
“This is a first step, not a final step. This is an attempt to get our federal house in order. … The president is taking bold action to do just that. … The gay community can be extremely proud that this president is with us and stands with us 100 percent on the core issues that we care about deeply about.”
Why is Obama signing the memorandum at 5:45pm EST when he’ll miss all the evening news cycles?
Paraphrasing: He’s got a busy schedule.
Earlier today, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force’s Rea Carey discussed the memo.