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Last week, at the annual Carrier Conference, OPM met with the insurance carriers that provide our Federal family across the nation with an array of health plan choices.
The conference offered OPM the opportunity to discuss details and trends with the insurers who offer coverage to the 8.2 million Federal employees, retirees, and their families who depend on the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHB) for coverage.
April is Autism Awareness month, and on April 1 the President issued a proclamation in honor of World Autism Awareness Day. With this being Autism Awareness month, I want to highlight one important change OPM is making to the FEHB benefit package that will impact children on the autism spectrum. Beginning in 2017, OPM will expect all our insurers to offer Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) benefits to children on the autism spectrum.
When I addressed the FEHB insurers at the Carrier Conference, I reminded them that for the past several years OPM has been encouraging plans to cover this treatment. I’m happy to say that since 2013 more and more plans have been offering this intensive therapy, which is becoming a leading form of treatment for children on the autism spectrum. In fact, 43 states now require health insurers to cover ABA.
But despite the recent voluntary expansion, OPM continued to receive letters from Federal families desperate to get coverage for their children. We heard from Federal families who had to pay out-of-pocket for this expensive care. By requiring every plan to cover ABA, all Federal employees with children on the autism spectrum will have access to this important coverage.
In addition to the obvious benefits to our Federal employees and their families, it is important that our FEHB benefits are on par with the private, academic, and non-profit sectors. In fact, the results from our 2015 Employee Benefits Survey bear this out: 67 percent of respondents said the availability of FEHB influenced their decision to take a Federal job. And 78 percent said having that benefit influences their decision to stay. Very simply, if the Federal Government does not offer high quality and inclusive health benefits, we run the risk of not attracting and retaining a high quality Federal workforce.
The addition of ABA coverage for children on the autism spectrum is another example of how OPM is continually evaluating and updating health benefits for Federal employees, retirees, and their families.
Since the beginning of his Administration, President Obama has been committed to promoting a workplace culture for the 21st century that will support the Federal Government’s ability to attract, empower, and retain a talented and productive workforce by expanding the use of workplace flexibilities and work-life programs. Among several requirements, the President directed OPM to educate agencies on the various workplace flexibilities and work-life resources available.
To support the President’s initiative, we are pleased to announce a new 90-minute online course called “Introduction to Leave, Work-Life, and Workplace Flexibilities” that is available at no cost through OPM’s HR University. Its goal is to provide Federal employees and managers with a comprehensive overview of flexible workplace benefits and how to access them.
This new course is being introduced during National Women’s History Month (WHM). The theme of this year’s WHM is honoring women in public service and government. OPM works with agencies across government to help recruit, develop, and retain the talent they need - including women - to deliver on our missions for the American people.
Today, OPM and IMPACT, the agency’s women’s employee resource group, sponsored a program entitled “Federal Women Lead.” During this panel discussion, senior Federal women leaders shared their career journeys and talked about the importance work-life flexibilities have played in their success.
OPM Acting Director Beth Cobert, who spent 29 years as a consultant and partner in the private sector before joining Federal service, recalled how she was one of the first consultants at that firm to work part time.
“Workplace flexibilities have been important to me in my career. My husband and I had demanding jobs when our children were born. I was a consultant at a private global management company, a job which involved long hours and considerable travel. Back then, working part time and other flexibilities to help balance work and family life were not in place in many workplaces, including mine. But I asked to shift to a part-time schedule, and the leadership in my office was willing to give it a try. It turned out to be good for me, for my firm, and our clients – and working part-time is now an option for others,” Cobert said.
Workplace flexibilities provide a benefit to both Federal employees and our customers – the American people. OPM’s course helps to promote a culture in which employees and managers are able to more effectively use the various workplace flexibilities and work-life programs available. Allowing employees to use these flexibilities improve agency productivity, employee engagement and provides better service for our customers.
There’s no better time for Federal employees to focus on healthy eating goals than during National Nutrition Month. The Federal Government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans provides nutrition advice and tips on how Americans can eat healthy while still enjoying food that meets their personal, cultural, and traditional preferences and that fit within their budget. Choosing nutritious foods can help reduce the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and maintain a healthy body weight.
This month, you may see an increased focus on nutrition. Throughout the year workplaces across the Federal government encourage employees to make informed decisions about their food choices. To support Federal agencies in developing and maintaining effective nutrition programs, OPM hosted a webinar training that highlighted agency best practices. We also conducted a government-wide assessment of their workplace health and wellness programs called WellCheck, which helps agencies determine the effectiveness of their health and wellness programs.
OPM also supports and maintains the Federal Work-Life Community of Practice (CoP) which helps work-life coordinators learn from other Federal agencies, collaborate with colleagues across government, and take advantage of cost-saving opportunities.
Some examples of evidence-based strategies that agencies are implementing to support healthy eating include:
The National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) "Cafe Wellness Tours," which gives employees the opportunity to identify better choices, sample healthy options, ask questions, and learn how to customize meals to meet their dietary needs. NIH also offers a variety of local options including: "Meatless Monday" specials; calorie labeling on digital menu boards, and identifying healthier menu choices with symbols. NIH's environmental supports for nutrition are one piece of their robust and comprehensive workplace health and wellness program.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) issues weekly nutrition tips through an opt-in employee listserv. It also provides lunch-time seminars on nutrition topics, such as understanding food labels. DOT continues to explore ways to strengthen its nutrition program and health awareness outreach by strategically partnering with its Employee Assistance Program, health clinic, fitness center, and external health services providers.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) hosts a series of in-person and virtual webinars that address the benefits of healthy eating. FEMA also partners with vendors to ensure healthful food and beverage options are available in snack machines. FEMA also encourages employees to make healthier choices available during meetings or team gatherings when food is served.
These efforts, and many others across the Federal government, support the Presidential Memorandum on Enhancing Workplace Flexibilities and Work-Life Programs, the National Prevention Strategy, and the Health and Sustainability Guidelines for Federal Concessions and Vending Operations.
For information about how to choose a healthy eating pattern and enjoyable diet, review the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Most importantly, we care about the health of Federal employees. Living a healthy lifestyle can help you be your best at home, work, and in your community. We hope you will take a few minutes to examine your eating habits this month and rejuvenate your health goals -- one bite at a time.
Building deeper ties with our nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HCBU) and bolstering employee training were the key themes of events that the Office of Personnel Management’s Blacks In Government (BIG) chapter and the agency’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) sponsored during African American History Month.
BIG and ODI partnered to host a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) forum that brought together representatives from Claflin University, Bowie State University, Hampton University, Howard University, Morgan State University, North Carolina A&T, University of the District of Columbia, the Association of Public & Land Grant University, and Prince George’s Community College. They were joined by representatives of Federal agencies and the business community.
The purpose of the HBCU forum was to have a robust discussion and to establish and sustain relationships with colleges and universities, Federal agencies, and other stakeholders in order to create a pipeline of talented students and alumni that will result in:
High school and college students knowing about and attending institutions of higher learning whose curriculum will prepare them to apply for the mission critical occupations offered by the Federal government;
College students nearing graduation looking to the Federal Government and government contractors as career destinations.
Federal agencies and the business community being more familiar and better understanding the mission of HBCUs, and be better prepared to recruit from these institutions.
Creating an environment for young college graduates and alumni who become Federal employees to have opportunities for professional growth and move into leadership positions;
Fostering genuine dialogue between the universities, the Federal Government, and other stakeholders to improve the kind of collaboration and engagement that will enhance the Federal Government’s continued efforts towards diversity and inclusion at all levels of Federal service.
OPM’s Acting Director Beth Cobert said at the forum that “the contributions that graduates from historically black colleges make to the Federal workforce across the country are extremely important. OPM is proud of the relationships we have built with many of you in this room.” She also pointed out that HBCU’s are some of the biggest producers of black undergraduate degrees in STEM fields, an area where many Federal agencies are in need of talented and motivated employees.
Director Cobert also challenged the attendees to take the opportunity to discuss and collaborate on ways OPM could work with the universities to enhance diversity and inclusion within the Federal and private sector.
Also during African American History Month, representatives from Howard University provided executive leadership training to OPM BIG members and other agency employees.
The “Leadership in Action Seminar” covered leadership and executive communications, principles in group and cross cultural communications, decision-making, and team building. The training was conducted by Dr. Kim Wells, Executive Director of Executive Education at Howard University’s School of Business and Retired Air Force General Frank Anderson.
The interactive training discussed how easy it is to fall into making hiring and promotion decisions based on conscious or unconscious biases that can impact an organization or company having a diverse and inclusive employment culture.
The events BIG organized during this year’s African American History Month are just the beginning. We will continue to promote collaboration and partnerships with representatives from our nation’s HBCUs, all with the goal of continuing to create a diverse and inclusive environment in the Federal workplace.
At the Office of Personnel Management, every day we work to support the President’s Management Agenda’s goal to recruit, hire, and retain a world-class workforce. We develop human resources policies for everything from benefits to employee engagement to performance management to diversity and inclusion. And we believe strongly that the policy decisions we make must be grounded in research.
Connecting research to policy is so important to us that it’s a goal in OPM’s Strategic Plan. This week, OPM partnered with American University to host its first research summit. We brought together researchers and policy experts from 20 Federal agencies, 19 colleges and universities, and partners from industry and the non-profit sector. We focused on six specific human capital policy areas: work/life issues; benefits; performance management; diversity and inclusion; leadership; and employee engagement.
Our goal was to determine the current state of research in each of these areas.
At this summit, we wanted to determine where there are gaps in the research we need to make the best informed decisions about human resources policies for Federal employees. We looked at the challenges to closing those research gaps and what research we need to best inform our policy decisions over the next several years.
This summit will lead to enhanced collaborations. OPM already works with researchers around the country as they look at human resources issues in depth. We provide researchers will access to selected OPM data. For example, by accessing the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey data, which contains insights on employee engagement, productivity, innovation, and other employee concerns, researchers have written at least 60 academic papers in recent years.
We must plan and make policy for the Federal workforce of the future. The way we all work is constantly changing. Employees are teleworking more. Workspaces are becoming more open and collaborative. We are asking employees to be more innovative and to think out of the box.
By making sure that our human resources policies are informed by the most rigorous and up-to-date research, OPM can better design more effective human resources policies and help the Federal Government move to the forefront as an employer of choice.
The ultimate goal of this summit and of the work of OPM’s Office of Planning and Policy Analysis is to use these collaborations to help us establish a research agenda for Federal human resources management that will shape human capital policy for years to come.
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