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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.
The first three months in a new job can be both exciting and nerve-wracking. Whether you’re entering the workforce as an assistant or as a senior leader, you’ll want to make a strong first impression. It’s a time to start fresh, with new opportunities and challenges.
Whatever the job, here are a few guiding principles for you, based on my many years as a leader in government. I especially encourage new Federal employees to take these tips to heart as you learn to navigate the public-sector landscape.
Your first 90 days on a job is the time to show what you’re made of and to prepare your path for the future. So listen, learn, and follow the advice of a mentor. Whether your new job is making copies or analyzing policy, success is about how you handle the work you are given and the commitment you show to the job and the mission. If you take that to heart you will go far.
One of the things I love most about my job as the Director of the Office of Personnel Management is the variety and complexity of the work we do to serve the American people.
I have the opportunity to work with brilliant people every day, teams and individuals tasked with solving some of our country’s greatest challenges. I’ve also learned that the process we use to get results – and the way all the steps in that process fit together just right – can be nearly as rewarding as the results themselves.
Let me explain this in another way. I love to cook, especially when it involves a complex recipe. Mixing many ingredients and flavors together in just the right way to make something new and delicious is incredibly satisfying to me.
Once my dish is cooked, I also love the presentation of the food. It may sound a little odd, but I always watch my guests take their first bite. If they talk through it, I feel like I’ve failed. But when they don’t say anything at all, and I see an expression of enjoyment appear on their faces, that’s when I feel I’ve done my work well.
Success in the workplace and success in the kitchen are a lot alike. Cooking is about the preparation, the presentation, and the first bite. These same steps can apply when we think about our jobs. How do we prepare? How do we present our work? What happens when our customers take their first bite? Is it satisfying? How can we improve the recipe?
Here’s an example of what I mean. At OPM last year, we wanted to give Federal employees more educational opportunities. The process began in the OPM kitchen: We knew employees were craving new training and advancement opportunities. We spent time preparing the recipe: We found a college willing to partner with us that offered a variety of programs and online degree options for Federal employees across the country – the University of Maryland University College. Once the partnership was fully cooked, we presented it to Federal employees, and the reaction was overwhelmingly positive. As a result, we are exploring the possibility of additional partnerships like the one with UMUC.
I love seeing my team prepare, present, and learn from the experience. In doing so, together we can serve the American people one great recipe after another.
The second open enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act ends on February 15. These next three weeks are critical if we are to get as many still uninsured Americans as possible signed up for quality and affordable health care.
This is something I am passionate about. I am doing all I can to encourage Americans, especially Latinos, to go to healthcare.gov and find the right plans for them. That is why earlier today I joined with Mayor Vaughn Spencer of Reading, Pennsylvania to help him spread the word.
As of January 9, nearly 6.8 million Americans have either signed up for a new plan or were re-enrolled in a plan through the Federal Marketplace. Yet, there are many who are still without health coverage.
Let’s take a look at Pennsylvania. In the Keystone State, 8 percent of residents still do not have health insurance. More than 100,000 Latinos remain uninsured. In the state, 15 insurance companies are offering more than 125 plans. So there is plenty of choice. And the good news is, there is financial assistance available to help with the premiums. More than 81 percent of people insured through the Marketplace in Pennsylvania are getting financial help. And now that Pennsylvania has joined many other states and expanded its Medicaid program, an additional 600,000 people are eligible for Medicaid. That’s lifesaving support.
The ACA has fundamentally changed our health care system. Children can remain on their parents’ policies until the age of 26. People can get the preventive and wellness care they need to keep small illnesses from turning into serious health problems. And individuals with serious illnesses and pre-existing conditions can’t be denied coverage or dropped from health plans when they get sick.
Insurance is important. You never know when an accident or serious illness may hit. The peace of mind of knowing you and your loved ones are covered and that you won’t go into bankruptcy as a result of something you can’t control is priceless.
So I’m hoping Federal employees will help spread the word in the coming days. Make sure your family, friends, and acquaintances don’t miss out on the chance to have the coverage they need.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a strong believer in service to others and to our nation. That is why every January, in honor of his birthday, hundreds of thousands of Americans come together for a National Day of Service to recognize Dr. King’s life and legacy.
As public servants, Federal employees already know the power of working for others. The MLK Day of Service gives us an opportunity to come together with family, friends, and neighbors to give something back to our communities and to those less fortunate than we are.
Every day, I see firsthand the incredible generosity of Federal employees. Every summer, they give hundreds of thousands of pounds of canned goods and other non-perishable items to food pantries at times when it’s needed most. And they donate millions of dollars to charities through the annual Combined Federal Campaign. So I know service to others is hardly a difficult sell to our Federal family.
That is why I hope many of you will find some way to volunteer in your community on Monday, January 19. Visit www.mlkday.gov to find a project that interests you or to promote your own. Opportunities in communities all across the country range from tutoring students and mentoring at-risk youth to working to protect the environment to assisting veterans and the military. I know that everyone can find a service project that matches his or her interests, time, and abilities.
By putting the core American principles of citizenship and service into action and by addressing local challenges, together we can help make our country a better place.
I hope that the MLK Day of Service can be the spark that leads people to get involved in their communities all year long. During the past year, more than 1-in-4 Americans did volunteer work. Altogether, 62.6 million Americans gave nearly 7.7 billion hours of their time, which represented an estimated economic value of $173 billion. That’s incredibly powerful. Become a part of that movement. Take the MLK Day Challenge and pledge to serve not only one day, but throughout the entire year by visiting www.serve.gov.
“Everyone can be great because everyone can serve,” Dr. King said of the value of giving back. Help us to continue to celebrate that legacy. Even one day of community service can make a difference.
Enjoy your day!
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