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Speeches & Remarks

Remarks of OPM Director John Berry

American Legion National Convention

Milwaukee, WI

September 1, 2010

Thank you, Commander Hill, for that kind introduction. It's an honor to join the American Legion at your 92nd annual convention.

I come from a family with a proud tradition of service. My father enlisted in the Marine Corps before Pearl Harbor and served with the first Division at Guadalcanal. My uncle, for whom I am named, was a Marine pilot, killed in battle in the Pacific, in the Philippines.

So it is no surprise that one of my highest priorities has been honoring your service, and the service of all those who risked their lives on behalf of our country.

The President spoke of some of those men and women last night, thanking the Soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen who finished our combat mission in Iraq. And to those continuing the fight in Afghanistan and beyond, he made it crystal clear: America is committed to al Qaeda's defeat.

For the sacrifices you and your comrades-in-arms have made, and for those yet to come, a grateful nation thanks you. But words of thanks are not enough. That's why I'm here to tell you about our actions on behalf of veterans.

The President and I were both appalled that our men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are facing an unprecedented unemployment rate, especially those veterans between the ages of 18-24. So we set out to do something about it.

Relying on the skill and leadership of people like Lt. Colonel Kendric Robbins, United States Army, our White House Fellow, Hakeem Basheerud-Deen, a 24-year veteran of the United States Air Force, Lt. Colonel Ray Decker, United States Marine Corps Reserve, and a super-creative Senior Executive, Joe Kennedy, we set out to build a new approach that built upon existing law and programs with the goal of hiring more vets across all government agencies. They built this program by working with our men and women in uniform, veterans, and their families - asking them what was needed and repeatedly ground testing it with them. They worked across government to develop our Veterans Employment Initiative, made official by President Obama's Executive Order 13518.

The Initiative is led by the government-wide Council on Veterans Employment, chaired by Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, and with high-level representation from every major agency. I serve as the Vice Chair and Chief Operating Officer.

We've established Veterans Employment Program Offices in all 24 major agencies, with full time, dedicated staff seeking to match the skills of enlisted men and women to Federal jobs.

Our mission is simple: hire more veterans. Hire retired enlisted personnel and officers. Hire those with disabilities. It's not enough to have vets in DoD and VA and our national security agencies - we need you everywhere. That's why we've been working with the Legion for the last couple months to prepare veterans and transitioning service members to apply for our jobs. And we've been working with our agency partners to interview and hire as many veterans as we can. OPM brought together a group of 15 agencies looking to hire 600 people. The U.S. Border Patrol was here to attract candidates for 1,200 more jobs.

We also hosted a resume workshop to help prepare you to apply for any jobs, Federal or private sector. I hope you've visited us over the last few days.

We've set clear, ambitious goals for each agency. Those who have fewer veterans now have higher goals, so they can catch up. We're tracking performance, and we're reporting back to the President and to you. So you'll be able to hold us accountable.

The good news, and these are just preliminary results, but in the first half of fiscal 2010, we have already seen veteran hiring increase by more than three percent over the same period the year before. In raw numbers, that's over 2,600 more vets hired into Federal jobs in just six months.

Now you may have read that we want to do away with vet preference. That is a lie and let me assure you, this initiative is in addition to all existing programs - not in place of - and not one comma of existing law has been touched by this initiative. Once we succeed in getting this right in government agencies, we plan to see if we can make the same approach work with the private sector. Your help with this will be critical and is much needed.

I recently began building this by talking to CEOs and private sector HR leaders over the past year. I was stunned when some of them asked if they could have tax breaks if they hired veterans. I said "No. These are valued, experienced, and trained professionals. You should be paying us a finder's fee, not the other way around!"

Our veterans are the world's best - their integrity is unmatched, as is their intellect and creativity. They keep all of us safe and free. The best we can do is match their skills, talent and know-how with a job when they take off the uniform. My promise to you is that I will not rest on this issue while I am in this job.

Other important initiatives are going to help us hire more veterans too. Our Hiring Reform Initiative allows hiring managers to view more veteran resumes through category rating, and it will speed up hiring for everyone, including vets.

Our new student pathways initiative, coming soon, will help vets who have gone back to school through the GI bill. And our Diversity initiative will help us better reflect the rich diversity of our armed forces and our nation in our civil service.

For every person who volunteers to risk his or her life on a frozen mountain or in a burning desert, our support must know no bounds.

For every family member who supports the servicemember on that mountain, our compassion can never equal their sacrifice, but we must always try.

That's why we made it easier to hire military spouses who uproot their lives and cross the globe to support an active duty service member. Helping spouses find civilian Federal employment is the right thing to do, and we can do it a whole lot better and we will.

In the last year, we've pushed through regulations to make it easier for Federal civilians to use sick leave to care for wounded warriors in their families.

And we've fixed reservist pay for Federal civilians. Some were losing pay when they went on active duty because their military pay was less than their civil service pay. No family should lose income because mom or dad has been called up, so Congress and the President took action. And once they gave us the authority to fix it, we worked with the agencies until all the technical issues were resolved.

OPM is proud of these accomplishments on behalf of our veterans and active duty service members. And we're just a small agency.

I don't have to tell you much we're doing to honor veterans in the rest of the government, especially the Department of Veterans' Affairs.

Secretary Eric Shinseki, and my friend Deputy Secretary Scott Gould, are transformational leaders, and they have been phenomenal partners in the work we're doing at my agency, OPM. This Administration and this Congress have already secured the biggest increase in VA funding in 30 years, and we're not slowing down. For those of you who missed it, just yesterday, Secretary Shinseki published a historic regulation that will especially help Vietnam veterans by expanding the number of war-related illnesses covered by VA healthcare. It's all part of our commitment to you.

For over 234 years, our nation has overcome every obstacle and faced down every threat because people like you have served.

In those years, the United States has accomplished more as a nation than the Founders could have dared to dream.

We have forged our own nation and liberated others.

We have created and defended a pax Americana that begat the greatest era of prosperity and discovery in human history.

We have shaped a body of knowledge that will endure as a lighthouse for the ages. The first humans to walk on the Moon still walk amongst us today, as do those who cracked the human genome. In half a century, we mastered the atom, broke the sound barrier, and created the Internet. In the last decade, we've peered through billions of light years of space toward the very origins of our universe.

These are literally achievements for the ages, rivaling those of Pericles and the ancient Greeks or Augustus and the Roman Empire.

They will be revered centuries hence among the greatest accomplishments of human history.

They are also, I would note, largely the accomplishments of America's public servants, both military and civilian.

Who could have imagined these achievements a century ago? More importantly, who can imagine now what we - military, veteran civil servants, and all who swear an oath to our Flag and Constitution - will accomplish in the years to come?

Together, we can build that lighthouse of knowledge, civilization and accomplishment so sturdy that it lasts another 1,000 years, and so bright that it illuminates the ages.

In his poem, "Go Forth," Walt Whitman wrote, "I am the new American pioneer, looking forward, never back. No longer content to wait for better times&elipse; I will work for better times&elipse; There is a better tomorrow, look across the plains and mountains and see America's eternal promise. A promise of progress."

Near the end of his remarkable life, General Grant spoke of your promise. As the first U.S. President to travel the world after leaving office, he was the most famous living person anywhere, and he drew crowds in the thousands. Stepping up to speak in Germany one day, he was introduced as the man who saved the Union.

He rejected the notion that any single person could have saved the Union and summed up the American character thusly:

"If I had never held command; if I had fallen; if all our generals had fallen, there were ten thousand behind us who would have&elipse; followed the contest to the end and never surrendered the Union. The humblest soldier who carried a musket is entitled to as much credit for the results of the war as those who were in command. So long as our young&elipse; are animated by this spirit there will be no fear for the Union."

The men Grant spoke of are the men and women who emerge from our military today. You are the ten thousand times ten of today who answered the call to service.

Thank you for all you've done. Thank you for your dedication and your sacrifice.

God bless you, God bless our President and God bless the United States.

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