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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!

Martin Luther King Jr image with the text What Are You Doing to Serve? www.mlkday.gov

At OPM, our Retirement Services staff works hard each and every day to provide the best customer service we can to our Federal retirees and their families. I know that as tax season approaches and the new cost of living increases take effect, many of our annuitants have questions.

I also know that the phone lines to RS can be especially busy now. So I want to make sure you know about our Services Online website. This portal is easy to navigate and allows retirees to access their retirement accounts 24/7.  Retirees can update mailing addresses and change their Federal and state income tax withholding. We’re always updating this website, based in large part on your feedback and requests. For example, retirees can now request a duplicate annuity booklet from Services Online. Also new is a feature that allows retirees to look at and print their Retirement Services ID Cards.

Signing up is easy. If you have a Civil Service Annuity or Civil Service Final Number, you can use this portal.  Once you’re on the login page, you can request a password by email or regular mail and set up your account. You will then have immediate access to Services Online.

If you want to get an early start on filing your taxes, you can go to Services Online and print your 1099R, the form retirees need to complete their filings. The system also includes information from the past two years if you need previous tax information. Otherwise, watch your mailbox. The 1099R forms for 2014 will be mailed by January 30, 2015. 

As I said, there’s a new cost of living, or COLA, rate. It was reflected in the January 2, 2015 payments. The COLA increase was 1.7 percent for retirees. The full increase is paid to retirees who began receiving retirement payments on or before December 30, 2014. You can get more information about the COLA increases on our website

As always, we look forward to continuing to serve our retirees and their families. We appreciate and are thankful for their years of dedication to public service.  We are always looking for new and innovative ways to provide more accessibility for our annuitants to get the information they need, when they need it.

Let us know how we can better serve you. And stay tuned, there’s more to come. 

Hand holds computer mouse while typing on a computer keyboard 


The 2014 Time Magazine Person of the Year is actually a group of people – brave women and men from around the world who are fighting the deadly Ebola virus. And Federal employees are right in the middle of this important battle.

In naming the Ebola fighters the Person of the Year, the magazine editors said; “The rest of the world can sleep at night because a group of men and women are willing to stand and fight.” They are being recognized, the editors said, “For tireless acts of courage and mercy, for buying the world time to boost its defenses, for risking, for persisting, for sacrificing and saving.”

It came as no surprise to me that hundreds of Federal employees are a part of the global Ebola effort. Time named three outstanding individuals who have been key players. Nancy Sullivan and Gary Nabel, virologists at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, have spent the past decade working on an Ebola vaccine that is now in clinical trials. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Thomas Frieden pushed for CDC teams to be allowed to help with the Ebola response in West Africa. Because of Frieden’s effort, the CDC is making a big difference in this fight.

And right here in the United States, hundreds of Federal employees are making sure our health care professionals are ready to treat Ebola victims. Nearly 100 NIH nurses, doctors, and hospital staff cared for Texas nurse Nina Pham while she was recovering from the virus. And thanks to the work of NIH and CDC researchers, we’re close to a large-scale clinical trial.

We’re truly leading the way. This is the largest-ever U.S. response to a global health threat.

President Obama put it best: “We’ve got hundreds of Americans from across the country –- nurses, doctors, public health workers, soldiers, engineers, mechanics -– who are putting themselves on the front lines of this fight,” the President said during a White House celebration of U.S. Ebola fighters. “They represent citizenship, and patriotism, and public service at its best.  They make huge sacrifices to protect this country that we love.  And when they come home, they deserve to be treated properly.  They deserve to be treated like the heroes that they are.”

This is what I mean when I talk about our incredible purpose-driven workforce. You are the standard of dedicated, passionate, and selfless public servants. And I know better than most that the recognition these scientists received from Time reflects the work of scores of public health officials across the country who have volunteered to aid in this fight. It’s an example of the service the American people can count on from Federal employees each and every day.

Thank you for all you did in 2014. Here’s to an even better 2015. I wish you and your loved ones a Happy New Year!

Woman looks into microscope

Photo Credit: National Institutes of Health (NIH)


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. 

Santa Claus flies through the sky with his reindeer.


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.


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