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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.
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