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Among the many great honors I have had as Director of the Office of Personnel Management is being able to welcome our country’s newest citizens. I had that pleasure again this past weekend when I spoke to 1,206 new Americans in Oakland, CA.
Looking out at a sea of American flags waving at the historic Paramount Theater, I was filled with awe at these new citizens’ accomplishments and with gratitude that they chose the United States of America as their new home.
These immigrants who came to our shores from 112 different countries are what America is all about: hard work, determination and community. They have followed in the tradition of millions and millions of people who for generations have come here from every corner of the globe to find a better life. In the past decade alone, more than 7 million people have pledged their allegiance to the United States and taken the oath of citizenship.
With July 4th just a little more than a month away, I know that the day on which we all celebrate our nation’s independence will have special meaning for the new citizens I welcomed in Oakland and for the thousands who will take that same oath in similar ceremonies across this great country.
As we get ready to commemorate Memorial Day weekend and enjoy the first outdoor celebration of the season, I hope all of us will take a moment to reflect on the meaning of this holiday: to remember the brave men and women who gave their lives in service to the United States as members of the armed forces.
What you may not know is that Memorial Day used to be called Decoration Day. That’s the name General John Logan gave the holiday when he originated it on May 5, 1868. On May 30 of that year, and every year since, flowers have been placed on the graves of soldiers at Arlington Cemetery and on the graves of military heroes throughout our great country. And over this weekend, loved ones, military members and Americans from every corner of this nation will place flowers on the resting places of our fallen heroes.
Here at the headquarters of the Office of Personnel Management, we are paying tribute to our fallen service members with a Missing Military Service Member table. The table contains several small items that all hold a special significance. An upside down wine glass is a reminder that the missing cannot join their loved ones in toasts. A single red rose signifies the blood that was shed to ensure our freedom. And a candle, to light the way home. The table honors the great sacrifices made by so many, particularly prisoners of war and those missing in action.
Since becoming OPM Director more than six months ago, I have had the honor to meet with veterans at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio and Thursday at Fort Carson and Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs.
Their stories of courage and resolve inspire me. I met with service members and their families who attended a Military and Veterans Employment Expo in Colorado Springs. Federal agencies and private employers talked with service members about making the transition to civilian life and with Veterans looking for a new career opportunity. I also talked with women service members about their options as they face their own decisions about their futures.
I am very proud that this past year was another record year for hiring Veterans for the Federal workforce. Of the 162,000 Federal employees we hired in fiscal 2013, 50,000 were Veterans. And we want to keep that number growing. I am thankful that after serving our country while in uniform, so many Veterans want to continue to serve by joining the civilian Federal workforce.
So this Memorial Day, let us take a moment to think about all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to keep our nation free. Let’s think about loved ones we have lost. Let us think about the fallen millions whose names we will never know.
And while we’re at it, let us thank the brave men and women who now wear the uniform. Thank you for your service, now and always.
As I work to make sure we continue to build a model workforce for the 21st Century, I have been traveling around the country meeting with Federal employees, college students, faculty members and community leaders to learn from their experiences. This week, I spent some time in Silicon Valley talking to technology industry leaders about recruiting, retaining and engaging our employees.
What I learned is that cutting-edge companies like Facebook, LinkedIn and Google share many of the same goals and face many of the same challenges we do. The leaders I met with shared some compelling insights based on their experiences. We also shared best practices that are common to private industry and government.
Like the Federal government, businesses in Silicon Valley are competing for the best talent in their fields. And also like us, they know that attracting and retaining talent is vital. Each company has found its own, innovative way to tackle these challenges. One executive I met with talked about the need to find qualified candidates where they are. Another said that his company uses staff to act as recruiters on their own social networks.
It makes sense in today’s media environment to find ways to reach potential employees across social media platforms. We need to target qualified candidates by using the communications tools that they are already using. In order to recruit the most talented candidates in the hyper-competitive Silicon Valley environment, employers aggressively pursue candidates rather than wait for applicants to come to them.
Just as diversity is one of my highest priorities, the same is true in Silicon Valley. I talked with officials at several companies about how important it is to have a diverse and inclusive workforce. Many of these firms are using similar tactics. Some work with underprivileged and underrepresented communities to cultivate interest in IT and related fields from an early age. Most rely heavily on internship programs as a pipeline for talent. And others turn to advocacy groups to help recruit to underrepresented groups.
Officials at these companies also agree with me that an engaged workforce is vital. They are looking for creative ways to not only improve the workplace culture, but to use that culture to attract talent.
Some technology companies use an equivalent of our Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey to provide insights into employee morale and job satisfaction and as a vehicle for employee feedback. Company officials know that employees who believe in their mission and see a collegial workplace will want and encourage others to join them.
These companies really are a lot like the Federal government. We have the same goals and the same challenges. Our collaboration can only help to make our own efforts that more powerful.
My conversations with these companies, and others like them, are just beginning. We have agreed to maintain an ongoing dialogue and to continue to share best practices to help each other be model employers of 21st century.
As millions of Americans are benefiting from quality, affordable health care because of the successful implementation of the Affordable Care Act, I want to let you know that OPM’s Multi-State Plan program is making a difference in the lives of nearly 300,000 people who have chosen this option in the health law’s Marketplace.
Representatives of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association told lawmakers at a recent congressional hearing that 283,783 consumers signed up for an MSP option during the Affordable Care Act’s first open enrollment period.
I am so proud of this accomplishment, especially since this was our first year running this program compared to the more than 50 years that OPM has administered the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. In this first year of the MSP program, consumers in 30 states and the District of Columbia had a MSP option as part of their health coverage choices.
It’s exciting to see that OPM is making an impact on the Health Insurance Marketplace. OPM staff is working to ensure that MSP options offer comprehensive benefits with strong consumer protections. With the MSP program in place, uninsured Americans now have even more choices for affordable coverage that works for them.
In this first year, we contracted with the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, a long-time FEHB partner to provide MSP options. But I am looking forward to welcoming additional MSP issuers in the future so we can add even more competition to the Marketplace.
So if you have friends or family members who have lost their health insurance because of a major life event, please refer them to the Health Insurance Marketplace at HealthCare.gov or CuidadoDeSalud.gov, the Spanish version of the site. And it won’t be long before the next open enrollment for the Marketplace begins on November 15, 2014.
And make sure to put in a plug for OPM’s MSP program!
At the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, we know how important it is to take care of all aspects of the health of our Federal family and their loved ones at every stage of live. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and I want to use this blog to start an important conversation. To be at our best at work, at home, and in our communities, we need to be mentally and physically healthy. If not addressed, reactions to stress, mental illness or substance abuse can disrupt our lives and the lives of those we love. The good news is that help is available and treatment works. Don’t be afraid to reach out to those you believe need help. Sometimes all it takes to avert a crisis is offering to connect a struggling friend, family member or co-worker with assistance.
Here at OPM and at agencies throughout the Federal government, I want to make sure that every employee knows where to turn if the need arises. Our Employee Assistance Program has trained counselors available 24/7 at 800-222-0364 to help with individual, family or workplace problems. An EAP counselor is also available by appointment in the OPM health unit every Wednesday and Friday by calling (202) 606-2140. Marital difficulty, parenting challenges, financial stresses, grief and work performance concerns are among the many issues EAP addresses daily. If short term counseling is not enough, EAP can provide referrals for ongoing care. All services are confidential and free of charge. Find out more on the Federal Occupational Health’s website.
Federal employees, retirees and families can also access mental health services through their Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) plans. FEHB insurance carriers cover in-patient and out-patient mental health care along with substance abuse treatment.
Sadly, in the last few years we have mourned the loss of too many Americans who take their own lives. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-TALK (8255) provides immediate assistance, connecting callers to a trained counselor at a local crisis center anytime day or night. As with any other emergency, if someone is in immediate danger, call 911.
I know that mental health can be difficult to talk about, but starting the conversation is critical to taking care of ourselves, supporting each other and saving lives.
Today, OPM kicked off the 2014 Presidential Rank Awards (PRA) process by asking agencies to nominate distinguished members of the Senior Executive Service (SES) and Senior Level (SL)/Scientific or Professional (ST) employees. These prestigious awards recognize these SES and SL/ST employees for sustained accomplishments over a period of years.
Awards programs such as the Presidential Rank Awards encourage excellence in Federal service, recognizing the accomplishments of the dedicated, hard-working men and women of the civil service. Awards are given in recognition of scientific breakthroughs, improvements in the delivery of service to the American people, and work that has or will result in the saving of billions of dollars for taxpayers. For example, one PRA finalist developed and executed a new contracting strategy for purchasing renewable energy at the Department of Defense that is projected to save $20 million. In another example, a PRA finalist at the Department of Commerce created the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel (SGIP) comprised of 750 companies and 1,800 individuals who are collaborating with the Federal government in developing smart grid standards that will help improve the energy usage and efficiency across the country.
As leaders in their agencies, nominees serve as role models for the entire workforce and must meet stringent personal and professional standards. Agencies are asked to consider the current challenging fiscal conditions and resources needed to meet overall agency mission priorities in determining the number of nominations to submit. Further, to ensure the continued integrity of the SES and SL/ST awards programs, all agencies are required to develop plans for the consideration of conduct, where appropriate, when determining performance awards for members of the SES or SL/ST employees. These plans will be made public on the agencies’ websites by September 30.
For last year, budgetary considerations due to sequestration limited the PRA program from granting any monetary awards. However, a list of 2013 finalists was selected based on nominations, and their accomplishments are recognized for their national and often international significance. Finalists from the FY 2013 class of nominations remain eligible to be re-nominated for FY 2014.
The Presidential Rank Awards recognize the exemplary achievements of individuals in service to the Federal government and the American people. The PRA, like other awards programs, is important to the continued and future success of our world-class workforce, and it serves as a source of pride and inspiration to all of us.
I look forward to reviewing the outstanding nominations.
This past weekend I had the honor of giving my first ever commencement speech to the 2014 graduating class of the University of Texas at Brownsville. What a great event!
This time of year is one of celebrations for many families across America, including many of the children of our 2 million strong Federal workforce and some Federal employees who I know are working and going to school at the same time. Congratulations to you all.
While in Texas, I also had the chance to meet with students, faculty and community leaders in Brownsville and at the University of Texas at Pan American.
I told them why I’ve dedicated so much of my time in the past few months talking to students and educators like them. It’s simple: there is almost no more important people to reach than those who will become the our workforce of the future.
I wanted them to know about the many opportunities out there for them, whether they want to work in Texas, or California, or North Carolina. I wanted them to know that there are opportunities available now – Pathways internships and entry-level positions at the Department of Agriculture, Veterans Affairs and the Army – all in Texas. I wanted them to consider public service.
Delivering a commencement speech can be intimidating. But this wonderful crowd of nearly 700 graduates and thousands of their families and friends was welcoming and inspiring. More than 90 percent of the UT Brownsville student body is Hispanic. And 70 percent of Saturday’s graduates were the first in their family to go to college. So was I.
Families and friends revel in the accomplishment of a college degree. But it can also come with some anxiety. What now? Where do I go from here? It can be a scary prospect. But also an exciting one.
I urged the graduates to take their time and when they are to ready think about the next step in their lives. I told them to refuse to take no for an answer, that if you never let go of what ignites your passions, you will find a way to do what you love.
I gave one final piece of advice to the UT Brownsville Class of 2014. It’s advice I gave my own workforce in my first week at OPM.
Don’t just think about what’s possible. Strive for the impossible.
You never know what you will accomplish.
What a week!
This year we took Public Service Recognition Week (PSRW) to a new level. Each year, PSRW is our opportunity to thank Federal employees for all of the work they do for the American people. This year we did things just a little differently.
We went big on social media. On Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram we asked Federal employees to thank their colleagues, friends, and neighbors using the hashtag #FEDSpirit. We received so many creative, funny, and heartfelt thank you’s.
On Tuesday I was invited to throw out the first pitch at National’s Park as a part of Federal Employee Recognition Night. We invited five of the employees that were recognized for their #FEDSpirit to join me on the field for the first pitch. While it wasn’t the best night for our home team, it was a truly great night out with each other.
You don’t see that every day.
And right here in OPM we’ve been showing our spirit throughout the building and in our offices around the country. We’ve been taking pictures showing off our #FEDSpirit. We’ve shared food and ice cream. And we’ve taken the time to give our employees brown bags, webcasts, and other useful information. These kinds of activities didn’t just happen here. Every government agency honored their Federal employees in their own way.
It’s important to honor not only the work Federal employees do, but the
people who do it. The people who care for our veterans, manage federal
programs, and fight forest fires. The people who keep our skies safe,
our water clean, and our mail flowing. The people who discover new
medicines, protect our children, and represent us around the world.
They put in the extra effort to get the job done.
I wrote an Op-Ed this week to highlight their great work. Variations of it ran in the Washington Post and in other newspapers around the country.
I’ve been traveling the country for the past few months meeting with Federal employees from nearly every agency and hearing their concerns, their dreams, and their ideas. And I always say thank you.
I am getting the word out in every way I can. I want Federal employees to know just how much they matter.
I don’t believe we should thank our Federal workforce only once a year. All our Federal employees deserve thanks and recognition year round.
So join me. Help us keep it up. Take time to thank you colleagues, your friends, and your neighbors.
I am so honored to lead such a dedicated, talented and strong workforce.
Happy PSRW. Thank you for all you do each and every day.
Each May since 1977 we have celebrated the achievements and contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to the American Story. During Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month we recognize the culture, traditions, history, and generations of AAPI community who have enriched America’s history and will be instrumental in its future success.
Members of the AAPI community were Chinese immigrants. It was their difficult manual labor that the transcontinental railroad was built in the late 1860;s Their efforts helped connect this great country, from the Pacific coast at San Francisco Bay to the existing Eastern U.S. rail network at Council Bluffs, Iowa, on the Missouri River.
Members of the AAPI community are federal employees and leaders of government. Christopher Lu is Deputy Secretary of Labor. Norman Mineta served as the Secretary of Transportation for President Clinton. Dr. Steven Chu served as President Obama’s Secretary of Energy.
Like America itself, the AAPI community draws strength from the diversity of its many distinct cultures.
The theme of this month is “I Am Beyond.” The phrase captures how Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander descent have always sought to excel beyond the challenges that have limited equal opportunity in America.
What a wonderful message for us all. Nearly five years ago President Obama established the White House Initiative on AAPIs. The Initiative addresses disparities in health care, education, and economic opportunity by ensuring Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders receive equal access to government programs and services.
In his proclamation commemorating AAPI Heritage Month this year, the President calls on us to “…recall our hard-fought progress, let us resolve to continue moving forward. Together, let us ensure the laws respect everyone, civil rights apply to everyone, and everyone who works hard and plays by the rules has a chance to get ahead.” You can read the President’s full proclamation on the White House's website.
As a former educator and community leader, I know the value of bringing together talented people with diverse ideas and perspectives to improve any organization. This is especially important for the Federal government. The complex and important work of government requires a diverse and inclusive workforce that is representative of the many important perspectives, talents, and backgrounds of our great country.
One of my major challenges and a priority for me as OPM Director is to increase the diversity of the Federal workforce. When I talk about diversity, I don’t just mean ethnic and racial diversity. I want to make sure that people of all ages, people with disabilities and people from every corner of this great country have opportunities.
With diversity comes inclusion. We need an inclusive workforce to serve the American people.
At OPM, the Asian American Pacific Islander American Employee Resource Group works to increase awareness of the Asian American and Pacific Islander cultures as an integral part of our agency’s mission. It supports the diversity and inclusion goals of our agency and provides opportunities for mentorship, support and development within the OPM community.
We also continue to support the programs of the Federal Asian Pacific American Council. I was honored that FAPAC representatives attended my reception after I was sworn in as OPM Director in December 2013.
So during this month and all through the year, let us focus on bringing together talented people with diverse ideas and perspectives. Like the AAPI community which draws strength from the diversity of its many distinct cultures, we at OPM need to draw strength from the diversity we have within our agency.
Tonight is my major league baseball debut, and I’m excited to share the names of the five Federal employees I’ve asked to join me on Nationals field when I throw out the first pitch.
Each of these individuals was recognized by their peers on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for representing the spirit of Public Service Recognition Week (PSRW). I hope you’ll join me in cheering them on when the Washington Nationals play the LA Dodgers this evening.
Mika J. Cross is a Human Capital Policy Strategist at USDA who specializes in work/life balance, diversity, inclusion and employee engagement. She was nominated by her colleague Jamie Edmunds, who tweeted that Mika is “inspiring and forward thinking” and that she “thrives in the face of adversity.”
Shannon Edwards is a Management Assistant in the Retirement Services division of OPM. She is committed to the accurate and timely processing of retirement claims for Federal retirees. She was nominated by Robert Gandy Sr. at USDA, who tweeted that Shannon “epitomizes #FedSpirit with her dedication” and that “she has #Natitude.”
Pamela Marstiller is a Management and Program Analyst at the FBI, where she takes great pride in knowing she’s been a “small, but integral part of National Security” for the past 19 years. Pamela was nominated by her niece, Amy Brodie, who tweeted “@OPMDirector, you need her by your side to throw out the first pitch.”
Justin Herman leads the government-wide SocialGov Community at GSA, uniting more than 450 government social media practitioners from more than 130 federal agencies into an objective-based problem-solver community. He was recognized by his colleague Tim Lowden, who tweeted that Justin is an “innovator, influencer, organizer, and devoted public servant,” and that his “curveball drops off the table.”
Carmen Garcia is the Executive Resources Coordinator and Pathways Program Officer at OPM. She is responsible for recruitment and staffing, classification, executive resources, change management, and advocating an environment of diversity and inclusion. She was recognized by her colleague Justin Johnson, who tweeted that Carmen is great at recruiting and has #FedSpirit.
I’ve really enjoyed seeing all of your recognition posts, tweets, and photos, and I hope you’ll continue thanking Federal employees all week long using #FedSpirit. And please follow me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook through @OPMDirector to watch my pitch this evening.
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