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As we recognize the contributions of African-Americans during Black History Month, I want to take a moment to reflect on two outstanding Federal law enforcement leaders: Omar Perez Aybar and Reginald J. France of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General.
Omar and Reginald are members of the interagency Miami HEAT Team that won the 2014 Homeland Security and Law Enforcement Service to America medals.
The team conducted hundreds of Medicare fraud investigations in South Florida, which is a ready target for Medicare fraud because of the region’s many retirees. The team members had their work cut out for them. And they knew their work was important, not only because fraudulent claims are inherently bad for the system, but also because each instance of fraud hurts the people who rely on Medicare for life-saving care.
Their investigations were incredibly successful. The HEAT force in Florida used cutting-edge, data-driven investigative techniques combined with a greater focus on interagency collaboration. The team brought together the expertise of the Office of Inspector General, the Department of Justice, the U.S. Attorneys Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and importantly, local law enforcement. They were able to tap into each other’s resources to create a much more effective single investigative force. Their work led to a record-setting 685 convictions and the return of almost $1 billion to the Medicare Trust Fund.
And, it provided other investigators around the country with a successful model for combating Medicare fraud. Eventually, 12 teams, like the one in Miami led by Omar and Reginald, coordinated criminal investigations that uncovered hundreds of fraudulent Medicare schemes by durable medical equipment suppliers, home health agencies, physicians, and rehabilitation facilities.
I am proud to count Reginald and Omar among the ranks of Federal employees. They are just two of the legions of African American Federal employees we should honor this month and in months to come. Their work is a true personification of the purpose-driven mission of Federal service.
2014 Homeland Security and Law Enforcement Medal Recipients—The Miami HEAT Teams from Partnership for Public Service on Vimeo.
As the nation pauses on Monday to celebrate President’s Day, I thought I’d share with you some interesting stories about the public service roles that presidents have had before reaching the White House. Public service truly was a calling for many of those who attained our nation’s highest office.
When we think of past presidents, Rutherford B. Hayes may not be the first to come to mind. But he has a fascinating history. He was a lawyer in Ohio as the Civil War unfolded. Hayes ended up serving with the 23rd Regiment of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He went on to represent Ohio’s Second Congressional District and while he served in the House, he voted for the Fourteenth Amendment, which established the American right to equal protection under the law. He was eventually elected Governor of Ohio and helped found a school for the deaf. That was a pretty impressive road to the White House.
Harry S. Truman served as an artillery officer in the National Guard during World War I. When he returned home from the war, he became director of Missouri’s Federal Re-employment Program, which was part of the Civil Works Administration. In that position, he helped create jobs for people who built or improved bridges, buildings, and other parts of the nation’s infrastructure. He then went on to serve in the U.S. Senate, where he supported such measures as the Transportation Act of 1940.
Jimmy Carter saw countless disparities that affected his community, so he decided to try to make a difference. That led to a lifetime of service. He was chairman of the Sumter County School Board and then the Georgia State Senate, where he fought for school integration. He later served as the Governor of Georgia, championing legislation that required equal disbursement of state aid to schools in wealthy and poor areas.
Before these presidents were elected to the highest office in the land, they served their country, their communities, and the public, working for issues they cared deeply about. Their experiences gave them unique insight into the issues that were affecting Americans and the knowledge to help make the changes they believed were needed.
This President’s Day I hope you will join me in reflecting on what an honor it is to serve the public. Our presidents are examples of what can be done when we work together toward a greater purpose.
Today, I visited Tampa, Florida to join in the final effort to enroll people in the Affordable Care Act Marketplace. During this open enrollment period, I’ve visited nine communities to talk with people about the importance of getting affordable, quality health care coverage for themselves, their families, their friends, and their neighbors. Many of my visits were to predominantly Latino communities, where uninsured rates are high and the need for coverage is great.
As we near the end of the enrollment period on Sunday, I’m thinking about the many people who have worked so hard to spread the word about the Affordable Care Act and who have helped so many people get enrolled. During my stops in Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Illinois, I have been privileged to see just how powerful the work of our local communities has been in getting people the health care they need.
I was honored to be standing side by side with the city and state officials who organized events to focus attention on open enrollment. I also want to recognize the incredible work of so many volunteers who guided people through the process day after day and mobilized their communities. Millions of Americans now have the quality and affordable coverage they need, so that if they have to deal with a difficult and serious illness they won’t also have to worry about going bankrupt. And it’s because of their efforts.
Health care is personal for me. I know what it’s like to deal with a serious family illness and the great relief that comes with knowing a loved one can get needed care because of good, quality health insurance. I’m grateful that because of the Affordable Care Act, all Americans now have access to this security. It is comforting to know that no one will be turned away because of a pre-existing illness, that women will not be charged higher rates because they can have children, and that thousands of people who could not afford coverage now have insurance under Medicaid.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of so many people, who believe as I do that affordable health care is fundamental to a society committed to liberty and equality, this open enrollment season will make a real difference in the lives of millions of Americans.
UPDATE: Due to Washington, D.C.-area weather-related closures, the REDI Kickoff Event has been postponed until 1:30 p.m. ET on Thursday, March 5. For more information, check out www.opm.gov/REDI.
Since becoming the Director of OPM 15 months ago, I have made it a priority to travel the country meeting Federal employees, educators, students, and stakeholders. I set out to learn what the agency could do to better serve its customers – the hard-working executive agencies of the Federal Government and their equally hard-working employees. I have been inspired by the stories, questions, and thoughts of the people I’ve met.
These conversations inspired me and my team to create OPM’s new Recruitment, Engagement, Diversity, and Inclusion Roadmap.
The REDI Roadmap is designed to make sure that we are using the latest data-driven expertise, social media tools, and collaborative thinking to build a Federal workforce that is talented, well-trained, engaged in the workplace, led by executives who inspire and motivate, and draws from the rich diversity of the people it serves. The goals of REDI reflect OPM’s commitment to the People and Culture pillar of the President’s Management Agenda.
I will unveil our REDI strategy during a virtual event to be held at 1:30 p.m. EST on Thursday, March 5.
One of the key components of our roadmap is the work we’re doing to improve USAJOBS.gov. During Wednesday’s event, the OPM team will preview some of the changes that will make the website a better experience for job seekers and help our agency partners attract top talent. The planned site enhancements grew from feedback we got from users across the country, and they demonstrate our commitment to customer service. Tune in to get a first look at a few of the updates we will implement in the coming months.
To learn more about the REDI Roadmap, I encourage you to watch and share the preview video below. This event is about sharing what we are doing for you – agency leaders, Federal employees, job seekers, educators, students, and stakeholders. I think you will like what’s in store.
REDI to join us? Watch the REDI Kickoff Event LIVE at www.opm.gov/REDI.
Each February, our nation pauses to recognize the countless contributions African Americans have made throughout our history. They have helped shape the fabric of our society, our culture, and our growth as a country.
One hundred years ago, Carter G. Woodson, a son of former slaves, created the Association for the Study of African-American Life & History. The association celebrated the first “Negro History Week” in February 1926. Fifty years later, in 1976, February officially became African American History Month when President Gerald Ford urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” Each year, the association chooses a theme for the month and this year it is: A Century of Black Life, History, and Culture.
In the past century, our country has witnessed so many changes -- from the civil rights movement to the construction this year of the first National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall. African Americans have been instrumental in many of the advancements that have shaped our society and certainly our Federal workforce. Countless African Americans have served the American people, many making significant contributions to government, just as many still do today.
This month, OPM will spotlight African American Federal employees who make a difference every day. They are the history-makers of their time. These dedicated public servants carry on the promise of such trailblazing leaders as former HUD Secretary Patricia Harris, the first African American cabinet member; Jocelyn Elders, the first African American U.S. Surgeon General, and Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. As the month goes on, I look forward to sharing stories of the latest generation of talented and committed African American Federal workers.
Even as we celebrate, we all know that we still have work to do. In September 2014, President Obama issued the “My Brothers Keeper” challenge. The initiative helps young people successfully make the journey from childhood through college and into a career. The program is particularly focused on helping young men of color develop the knowledge and skills necessary to unlock their full potential. Many cities, towns, corporations, and organizations have already made a pledge to this call for action and have plans to implement their pledges over the next few years. These partnerships will not only benefit the young men being mentored, but also help the communities and neighborhoods where they live and work become stronger and more economically viable.
America wouldn’t be the nation it is today without the sacrifices and efforts of those who came before us. When we read and hear the stories of the courageous individuals who wanted to see the American dream fully realized, it reminds us that whatever our race or ethnicity, we all benefit from, and should recognize, African American history.
As President Obama says in this year’s presidential proclamation: “Like the countless, quiet heroes who worked and bled far from the public eye, we know that with enough effort, empathy, and perseverance, people who love their country can change it. Together, we can help our Nation live up to its immense promise.”
And I know that as a Federal family, together, we will continue to live up to that promise.
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