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I don’t think that I am very different from other women in looking to my mother as one of the most important influences in my life. She had an especially large influence on how I developed throughout my career because of the example she set, because of how she lived her life. Her guiding principles not only shaped me, they continue to be the compass for my own family and career choices.
My mother had only a fifth-grade education. For her generation, the prevalent attitude was that a woman didn’t need a good education because her main responsibility was to raise a family. But my mother did that with everything she had, including a strong will and a gentle heart. She was incredibly committed to my siblings and to me. We always came first. She taught us the power of family and that no one accomplishes anything alone.
When I was young, my mother showed me how to stand on my own two feet. My brother and I struggled as the only minorities in our school. We faced a lack of understanding and prejudice from our teachers and classmates. My mother helped us learn to stand up to those prejudices and to gather the strength to move past them.
As an adult, my mother taught me the power of resolve. I knew that she had always wanted to continue her education. But she waited patiently until all of her children had grown up and left home, and then she quietly went to work on her GED. She didn’t even tell us what she had been up to until the day her diploma came in the mail. I’ll always remember the smile on my mother’s face as she showed us what she had accomplished.
And that brings me to the most important thing she taught me – the power of saying thank you. She and my father were very grateful for everything they had. They instilled in us that same level of gratitude for each day, good or bad, and for the opportunities we get in life to grow, to share, and to learn. I try to follow that example to this day.
My mother gave me the gifts I needed to become a public school teacher, a civic activist, a Federal government executive, and today, the head of the Office of Personnel Management. I can’t think of a better day than International Women's Day to celebrate my mother’s lasting contributions.
As I reflect on the bravery and commitment of the Americans who marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge 50 years ago, I think about how far we have come as a Federal workforce in championing the values of justice, of equality, and of fairness.
The President’s visit to this hallowed spot sends a message to our nation that we must not forget the struggles it took to make it possible for an African American to hold the most powerful position in the free world.
My lifelong passion has been to make sure that people from every corner of our great country have a spot at every decision table. At OPM, we work every day to help agencies across this government fulfill that promise.
Let us never forget the trailblazers who showed us the way.
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.
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