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All around the world, this is the day children try to stay up as late as they can, hoping to catch a glimpse of Santa Claus as he makes his way to their house.
Did you know that thanks to the Federal government’s North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), youngsters can figure out just when to turn their eyes skyward? NORAD’s Santa Tracker will let them know when Santa and his sleigh are approaching. While they are waiting, Santa watchers can also call the Santa hotline – 877-HI-NORAD – to make any last-minute gift requests. Those that are too shy to call the big guy can send a note to his personal email address.
I’d like to share with you the interesting story behind NORAD’s Santa Tracker. This Santa watch started with a simple misprint in a Sears Department Store ad and a kind-hearted member of the military.
In 1955, Col. Harry Shoup was stationed at the Continental Air Defense Command. The office, which is now NORAD, had two phones – a regular line and one of the top-secret red phones that rings at times of national emergency.
One night Col. Shoup’s red phone rang. The colonel answered it, and heard a child at the other end asking for Santa. At first Shoup was angry, thinking it was a prank. But the child’s mother explained that the obviously wrong number was printed in a Sears ad that encouraged children to call Santa and ask for their gifts.
The colonel decided to have a little fun. He put together a team to answer the inevitable calls that started to flood in as a result of the ad. Eventually, he came up with the idea of calling radio stations and alerting DJs to the location of Santa’s sleigh. The stations would then call in regularly for updates. Shoup became known as Col. Santa, and the tradition carried on, year after year. Thanks to a recent story on National Public Radio and interviews with the late colonel’s grown children, we have the details of this endearing story.
Today, NORAD continues to track Santa and his reindeer. Volunteers man the hotline – though it is no longer a top-secret number – and update the world on Santa’s progress through Christmas Eve. It just goes to show that Federal employees – both military and civilian – have some of the coolest jobs. It also shows how a little innovation and imagination can go a long way.
The Department of Defense’s Press Secretary, Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, says that “every indication is that Santa Claus will arrive on time this year to deliver presents to the world’s estimated 1.9 billion children” and that NORAD is “tuning up the Santa-tracking system” this year. NoradSanta.org now shows the countdown until Santa takes to the skies. Kirby also assures us that the anti-Grinch firewall is up and monitoring for threats and that NORAD has verified the load-bearing capacity of all rooftops. Their infrared detecting satellites are even calibrated to see Rudolph’s nose. That’s what I call cutting-edge technology.
Join us in tracking Santa this year. And I hope that you and your loved ones have a safe, happy, and restful holiday season.
Winter officially begins next week. As you may already know, OPM is responsible for deciding when to change the Federal government’s operating status in the Washington, D.C. area, and for getting the word out about any changes.
While we are all hoping for an uneventful winter weather season, I want to make sure all Federal employees know what to do when severe weather hits.
I take many factors into consideration when deciding the status of Federal government operations inside the Beltway. The most important is the safety of the Federal workforce and the surrounding community. Our employees are our most important asset. The second concern is continuity of operations. The government never really closes. Emergency response personnel and teleworkers keep our operations going even when employees can’t physically get to work.
During a live-streamed event earlier today, Dean Hunter, OPM's Director of Facilities, Security and Contracting, explained the decision-making process, and Brenda Roberts, OPM’s Deputy Associate Director of Pay & Leave, gave an overview of the policy that informs those decisions.
Brenda also told us about the change to this year’s policy. OPM is revising an outdated leave practice of allowing employees who are already scheduled to be on paid leave when the Federal government closes to take excused absences. With the change, if Federal offices close, employees who are on pre-approved leave remain on leave, rather than switching to an “excused absence” status.
We made this change to take into consideration today’s workplace flexibilities. With the increasing use of telework to help us assure continuity of operations, it’s now obsolete to provide excused absences for those employees already scheduled to be on leave when an emergency hits.
We had two guests with us at today’s webcast. Chris Strong, Warning Coordination Meteorologist for the National Weather Service, helped us understand how the weather service informs OPM about upcoming storms and the difficulties in predicting those weather events.
We were also joined by Caroline Laurin, deputy chief spokesperson for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). Because so many Federal employees take public transportation to work, it’s crucial for all of us to know the status of trains and buses by consulting with WMATA. The authority relies on our decisions to let them know how many crews, trains, and buses are needed for rush hour commutes during difficult weather. Caroline stressed how important it is that employees comply with OPM’s status decisions.
We need to be prepared for weather and unexpected emergencies all year round. It is important that agencies and their employees know their personnel designations, telework policies, and emergency preparedness plans before an event occurs. The past few years have taught us that our dismissal and closure procedures extend beyond winter weather emergencies and can be necessary at any time.
We want to make sure that Federal workers stay safe and that we continue to serve the American people even during times of difficult weather events. And the best way to make sure that happens is for everyone to be informed.
So, please take a few minutes to read the updated Dismissal and Closure Guide on the OPM website. And if you didn't get a chance to tune into the panel discussion, it's available on our YouTube channel.
I like to think that our Federal workforce leaders know how much we all appreciate and respect the hard work they do each and every day. But yesterday, I had the honor of hosting an event where I joined the President in making clear just how much we value the efforts of all our senior leaders.
More than 3,000 senior leaders came together to share success stories and to listen to administration leaders and the President thank them for a job well done.
As the President said, circumstances such as sequestration, pay freezes, and a shutdown have made the jobs of our senior executives even more challenging than usual. Throughout these difficulties, these leaders have persevered and excelled. Through their leadership, our 2-million strong Federal workforce makes sure that each day in America, 30,000 airplanes land on time, children have clean water to drink, and millions more Americans have quality, affordable health coverage for themselves and their loved ones.
As I said on Tuesday, it is fitting that the symbol of the Senior Executive Service is a keystone, which is the stone that holds all the other pieces of an arch in place. These talented, committed, and dedicated leaders are the keystone of America’s workforce.
Tuesday’s event also gave all of us an opportunity to rededicate ourselves to building and leading an engaged, inclusive, innovative, and diverse Federal workforce. We celebrated our successes and were inspired to continue the important work of providing excellent service to the American people each and every day.
As the Federal workforce prepares to share this holiday season with friends and family, I hope you will take a moment to let your colleagues know how much you value your Federal family. I know I am grateful for the talent, the commitment, and the dedication of the women and men of the Office of Personnel Management. I am honored to be your senior leader.
Four years ago, President Obama signed an Executive Order stressing the importance of hiring people with disabilities into the Federal government. He set a goal of hiring 100,000 people with disabilities. I am proud to say that we are more than halfway toward reaching that milestone.
OPM’s latest report on the employment of people with disabilities shows that the Federal government has hired people with disabilities at a higher rate than at any time in the past 33 years. In fiscal year 2013, 18 percent of new Federal hires were people with disabilities, a 1.9 percent increase over fiscal 2012. In the first three years of enacting the E.O., we have hired a total of 57,491 permanent employees with disabilities. Because of the hard work and dedication of Federal employees and the disability community, we have made outstanding progress toward meeting the President’s goal.
One of the things I love best about being Director of OPM is that I get to meet some of the dedicated and amazingly talented people who are devoting their lives to public service.
Let me tell you about Cynthia Hamilton, who works here at OPM. Cynthia came to us as an intern during her senior year at Gallaudet University, where she was finishing her degree in business management. When she graduated, Cynthia was able to move right into a full-time job as a human resources specialist. But she wasn’t sure whether the Federal government would accommodate her needs. Not only is Cynthia doing a great job, some of her colleagues at OPM have taken American Sign Language classes. She now wants to become a manager and let others who are deaf and hard of hearing know what’s possible in Federal service. And she wants to see more people with disabilities get hired. So do I.
We need and we will hire more people like Cynthia, and we know we still have so much work to do. Our commitment to hiring, developing, and retaining more people with disabilities is not just about the numbers. It’s about making sure that we have a rich diversity of thought, of expertise, of experience, and of perspective throughout the government.
As OPM Director, I am committed to making sure that the Federal government is a model employer. And that means our workforce must reflect the rich mosaic of the American people we serve.
I’m proud of the progress we have made. Stay tuned. There is more to come.
A funny thing happens when you’re 22. You dream big. You work hard. You charge forward. But you are not so sure where you are going.
At 22, I had just graduated from college and had started teaching Pre-K in an inner city school in Denver. My ambition was to be a great teacher. I thought that would define my success. That was my plan, or so I thought. What I didn’t realize then was, there would be many, many more turns in the road.
I soon figured out that each year brings another set of experiences and growth. And each experience, each opportunity to learn, exponentially broadens the possibilities of who you can be. In reality, it takes a great deal of strength to move past who you are in the moment to who you can be in the future. And often that means just being willing to take a risk and follow your passion. It was taking risks and following my passion for public service that led me from the classroom to community service to government leadership.
It turns out that what I had imagined for myself at age 22 wasn’t exactly the right plan. But looking back, I realize that even though my career plan changed – and more than once -- there was one principle that remained constant through the years, one principle that served me well on my journey: You can’t be afraid. You can’t be afraid of a new experience. You can’t be afraid of a challenge. You can’t be afraid of failure.
At some point in our careers, we all face those moments of deep reflection and decision. I just knew that I had to keep trying new things, that I had to keep moving forward. And I knew that if one turn in the road didn’t work out, at least I would have had an interesting and perhaps valuable experience.
Not that long ago, I had a conversation with my daughter Graciela, who is in her 20s. She asked me: “Don’t I need to start thinking about the future and where I am going with my career?” I told her that perhaps she should be thinking about the next two to three years, not the next 20 or 30. In two or three or five years, everything might be different. Go ahead and make a plan, I told her, just be willing to change it when you need to or want to.
You don’t have to plan the rest of your life at 22. You don’t need to limit yourself. Try new things and don’t be afraid. Like I discovered, you never quite know where your potential, your talent, and most of all, your passion will take you.
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