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Our Director Director's Blog

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On the left, Bronze scales on top of stack of books with gavel laying next to the pile. Words on the left say Partnering to recruit administrative law judges


Beth Cobert is the Acting Director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management

Carolyn Colvin is the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration

Every day agencies across the Federal Government come together to provide important services to the American people.  This spring, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the Social Security Administration (SSA) joined forces to recruit prospective candidates for administrative law judge (ALJ) positions.  ALJs are integral to SSA and other agencies to make impartial decisions on such issues as disability determinations, licensing, or grievances.  Nearly 2,000 ALJs work in 27 Federal agencies across the government.

SSA’s hearing and appeals operation is one of the largest administrative adjudicative systems in the world.  OPM provides agencies with certificates of well-qualified ALJ candidates, drawn from a robust register, to fill vacant positions.  We are happy to report that OPM recently issued an announcement for entry-level ALJ positions on USAJOBS, which yielded more than 5,000 applications.  

In the coming months, OPM will review qualifications and complete the thorough approval process by which applicants who successfully complete both online and in-person assessments of the examination will be added to the ALJ register.  In addition to scheduling the current administration of the exam, OPM replenished the existing ALJ register with new candidates who successfully completed the 2013 administration of the examination. OPM also opens the examination on a quarterly basis to disabled veterans and certain individuals who are entitled to veterans’ preference in relation to disabled veterans.

SSA and OPM are committed to continuing to work together to fulfill this important government function.


Blue blox with words 'Ban the box' and white man in tie with head in hands

Each year, more than 600,000 people are released from Federal and State prisons, and millions more are released from local jails. One in three working-age Americans has an arrest record. Many face long-term, sometimes lifelong, impacts of a criminal record that prevent them from getting a job or accessing housing, higher education, loans, credit, and more.  Such barriers hurt public safety, add costs to the taxpayer, and damage the fabric of our communities. Removing these barriers and promoting the rehabilitation and reintegration of people who have paid their debt to society is a critical piece of the Administration’s efforts to make the nation’s criminal justice system more fair and effective.  

This week is National Reentry Week—a chance to call attention to the urgency of criminal justice reform and to highlight the ongoing work across the Federal government to remove barriers to reentry for people returning to their communities. Here at the Office of Personnel Management, we are doing our part.

Today, OPM issued a proposed rule that would ensure that applicants with a criminal history have a fair shot to compete for Federal jobs. The rule would effectively “ban the box” for a significant number of positions in the Federal Government by delaying the point in the hiring process when agencies can inquire about an applicant’s criminal history until a conditional offer is made. This change prevents candidates from being eliminated before they have a chance to demonstrate their qualifications.

Earlier inquiries into an applicant’s criminal history may discourage motivated, well-qualified individuals who have served their time from applying for a Federal job. Early inquiries could also lead to the premature disqualification of otherwise eligible candidates, regardless of whether an arrest actually resulted in a conviction, or whether consideration of an applicant’s criminal history is justified by business necessity. These barriers to employment unnecessarily narrow the pool of eligible and qualified candidates for federal employment, and also limit the opportunity for those with criminal histories to support themselves and their families.  

This Administration is committed to pursuing public policies that promote fairness and equality. As the nation’s largest employer, the Federal Government should lead the way and serve as a model for all employers – both public and private.

The proposed rule builds on the current practice of many agencies, which already choose to collect information on criminal history at late stages of the hiring process. The rule would take the important step to codify, formalize, and expand this best practice.

There are certain times when an agency might be justified in disqualifying an applicant with criminal history, or collecting information on their background, earlier in the process. Therefore, OPM will set up a mechanism for agencies to request exceptions. These will be granted on a case-by-case basis. These exceptions could be granted either by individual position, or by class of positions, depending on the specifics of the case. For example, cases could include certain law enforcement jobs that require the ability to testify in court, or jobs where applicants undergo extensive and costly training before they are offered a job.

Banning the box for Federal hiring is an important step. It sends a clear signal to applicants, agencies, and employers across the country that the Federal Government is committed to making it easier for those who have paid their debts to society to successfully return to their communities, while staying true to the merit system principles that govern our civil service by promoting fair competition between applicants from all segments of society.

To view the proposed rule, you can visit the Federal Register.


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This week OPM held its inaugural Diversity and Inclusion Collaboration and Innovation Summit at the U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters. We brought together individuals from across government who are committed and passionate about finding innovative ways to fulfill the President’s Management Agenda’s goal of creating a more diverse, inclusive, and engaged Federal workforce.

I was happy to kick off the two-day summit by stressing that we need to think about diversity and inclusion not as something “nice” to have, but as a “must have.” Diverse workforces can draw from the expertise, backgrounds, and experiences of individuals from every community in this country. When we have more diverse talent, we can better fulfill our mission to provide excellent service to the American people.

Our national security leaders, for example, recognize that increasing diversity in their ranks would help enrich the insights and perspectives they need to protect the security of America.


The people who attended this two-day summit know the basics. But the basics aren’t enough. To make real progress, we need to tackle the hard stuff. We need to not only have a diverse group of leaders around the decision table, we need to actually seek everyone’s input and make it part of the decision-making process.

All employees should feel valued when they come to work. They need to know that their opinions matter, that they are respected as individuals, and that they have an impact on the important work their agencies are doing. That’s what drives real employee engagement.

One big success we have already seen across government is in hiring people with disabilities. In 2010, the President issued an Executive Order directing Federal agencies to hire 100,000 people with disabilities. I am happy to say that we’ve exceeded that goal, thanks in part to a tool called the Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP). The WRP helps hiring managers find qualified students with disabilities who are just starting out in their careers. The WRP, which is managed jointly by the Departments of Labor and Defense, has more than 1800 names that Federal managers can tap into to find qualified candidates in fields ranging from health care to computer specialists.

That is just one example of the many creative solutions we are seeing across government. We have seen innovative ways of attracting diverse hires in the STEM field, including women and underrepresented minorities. I hope the summit will generate countless other ideas that we will likely be talking about at summits to come.

In the meantime, keep the discussion going - in every agency, office, and on every team. Share your ideas. Nothing is too bold. We need everyone’s help to make the Federal government the model workforce for the American people. It’s only when we remember that diversity cannot be an add-on to your mission, but is critical to it, that we will get the transformation we need.



Last week, at the annual Carrier Conference, OPM met with the insurance carriers that provide our Federal family across the nation with an array of health plan choices.

The conference offered OPM the opportunity to discuss details and trends with the insurers who offer coverage to the 8.2 million Federal employees, retirees, and their families who depend on the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHB) for coverage.

April is Autism Awareness month, and on April 1 the President issued a proclamation in honor of World Autism Awareness Day. With this being Autism Awareness month, I want to highlight one important change OPM is making to the FEHB benefit package that will impact children on the autism spectrum. Beginning in 2017, OPM will expect all our insurers to offer Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) benefits to children on the autism spectrum.

When I addressed the FEHB insurers at the Carrier Conference, I reminded them that for the past several years OPM has been encouraging plans to cover this treatment. I’m happy to say that since 2013 more and more plans have been offering this intensive therapy, which is becoming a leading form of treatment for children on the autism spectrum. In fact, 43 states now require health insurers to cover ABA.

But despite the recent voluntary expansion, OPM continued to receive letters from Federal families desperate to get coverage for their children. We heard from Federal families who had to pay out-of-pocket for this expensive care. By requiring every plan to cover ABA, all Federal employees with children on the autism spectrum will have access to this important coverage.

In addition to the obvious benefits to our Federal employees and their families, it is important that our FEHB benefits are on par with the private, academic, and non-profit sectors.  In fact, the results from our 2015 Employee Benefits Survey bear this out:  67 percent of respondents said the availability of FEHB influenced their decision to take a Federal job. And 78 percent said having that benefit influences their decision to stay. Very simply, if the Federal Government does not offer high quality and inclusive health benefits, we run the risk of not attracting and retaining a high quality Federal workforce.

The addition of ABA coverage for children on the autism spectrum is another example of how OPM is continually evaluating and updating health benefits for Federal employees, retirees, and their families.



Image of people and buildings representing worklife balance

Since the beginning of his Administration, President Obama has been committed to promoting a workplace culture for the 21st century that will support the Federal Government’s ability to attract, empower, and retain a talented and productive workforce by expanding the use of workplace flexibilities and work-life programs. Among several requirements, the President directed OPM to educate agencies on the various workplace flexibilities and work-life resources available.

To support the President’s initiative, we are pleased to announce a new 90-minute online course called “Introduction to Leave, Work-Life, and Workplace Flexibilities” that is available at no cost through OPM’s HR University. Its goal is to provide Federal employees and managers with a comprehensive overview of flexible workplace benefits and how to access them. This new course is being introduced during National Women’s History Month (WHM). The theme of this year’s WHM is honoring women in public service and government. OPM works with agencies across government to help recruit, develop, and retain the talent they need - including women - to deliver on our missions for the American people.

Today, OPM and IMPACT, the agency’s women’s employee resource group, sponsored a program entitled “Federal Women Lead.” During this panel discussion, senior Federal women leaders shared their career journeys and talked about the importance work-life flexibilities have played in their success.

OPM Acting Director Beth Cobert, who spent 29 years as a consultant and partner in the private sector before joining Federal service, recalled how she was one of the first consultants at that firm to work part time.

“Workplace flexibilities have been important to me in my career. My husband and I had demanding jobs when our children were born. I was a consultant at a private global management company, a job which involved long hours and considerable travel. Back then, working part time and other flexibilities to help balance work and family life were not in place in many workplaces, including mine. But I asked to shift to a part-time schedule, and the leadership in my office was willing to give it a try. It turned out to be good for me, for my firm, and our clients – and working part-time is now an option for others,” Cobert said.

Workplace flexibilities provide a benefit to both Federal employees and our customers – the American people. OPM’s course helps to promote a culture in which employees and managers are able to more effectively use the various workplace flexibilities and work-life programs available. Allowing employees to use these flexibilities improve agency productivity, employee engagement and provides better service for our customers.


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