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Our Director Director's Blog

Welcome! We are committed to recruiting and retaining a world-class workforce for the American people.

Take a look at our blogs and share with others. Once you are on a particular blog page, you can give us the thumbs up. Connect with Acting Director Cobert on Twitter: @OPMDirector and Facebook.com/OPMDirector. Also, find us on other social media channels.

This is the time of year when winter weather can make for a difficult commute, so Federal employees and the public in the Washington, D.C. area look to OPM’s website, mobile app , and social media platforms to check whether we’ve made a change in the operating status.

What you see is the final decision – whether to close, delay arrival, or offer Federal employees unscheduled leave and telework. But what you don’t see is what happens behind the scenes in the hours before a status decision is made. That’s what I want to tell you about.

A hardworking team of people from OPM, across the Federal government, and our local partners work extremely long hours to look out for our safety. As events unfold, this team comes together to evaluate whether we need to consider an operating status change.

Heading OPM’s operating status team is OPM’s Director of Facilities, Security and Emergency Management.  He and his team monitor the weather, traffic conditions, and any alerts 24-hours a day. Whenever they believe we might need to make an operating status decision, they consult with our partners at the National Weather Service; local departments of transportation in D.C., Maryland and Virginia; public transit, including WMATA and Amtrak, law enforcement; school districts, and local governments to make sure we have all of the information we need to make a well-informed decision.

As a potential storm gets close, we hold a conference call to discuss impacts to the region and potential options. The team comes to our decision call with fresh information from the Council of Governments, a group of more than 200 people who meet and share the most up-to-date information on the forecast, road conditions, public transportation, schools, and more.

OPM’s emergency management director takes that information, looks at how we have handled similar situations in the past, and makes a recommendation to the team and to me. Often, the decision is not clear-cut, given the uncertainty of all the factors we have to consider. We work from information we know could change, but we are committed to making a call no later than 4 a.m., in time for commuters to plan their day.   If we are confident in a forecast, we will make the decision sooner – if possible, the night before.

As we weigh our options, we look at what flexibilities are needed and how employee safety and the continuity of government operations will be impacted by what we decide. We also consider the large and growing numbers of D.C. employees who can or do telework and the time of day the storm will hit. We look at the expected rate of snowfall and accumulation throughout the Beltway, and how long the storm is expected to last. We factor in WMATA’s status and its needs for staffing as well as what local transportation departments are telling us about how confident they are that they can get the roads ready. It’s a complex process and every event is different.

After taking all the information and input into consideration, it falls to the OPM Director to make the decision on whether to change the status and what to change it to.

Once the decision is made, we immediately get the word out to you on the OPM website, social media, email, and of course through our OPM Alert app.

While we know that the weather doesn’t always pan out as forecast, at OPM we try to make the best decision both to ensure your safety and that the work of the Federal government continues. We take this very seriously and I know this is one of my biggest responsibilities.  I promise you that I will always make the decision I think is best to balance our highest priorities.

Now let’s hope for a calm winter season.


In his December 2014 address to Federal Senior Executives, President Obama said, “We need the best and brightest of the coming generations to serve. Those of us who believe government can and must be a force for good…we’ve got to work hard to make sure that government works.”  Today, the President took executive action to attract, develop and retain the best talent needed to continue moving the Government forward in the 21st Century.

A high-performing, efficient and effective government relies on the skills and talent of a high-performing, well-prepared and well-trained workforce.  Federal employees defend our country overseas, deliver benefits to our troops when they come home, guard our borders, protect our civil rights, push the boundaries of science and space, help businesses grow and gain footholds in overseas markets, and help protect the air we breathe and the water our children drink.

A cornerstone of the President’s Management Agenda is a commitment to unlocking the potential of the Federal workforce and building the workforce we need for tomorrow to drive greater effectiveness and efficiency within government and better harness taxpayer resources to spur economic growth.  That is why in December 2014, the President announced a series of initiatives to strengthen our Federal workforce and recognize outstanding customer service: the White House Advisory Group to Strengthen the Senior Executive Service (SES), the White House Leadership Development Program (WHLDP), and the Customer Service Awards Program.

Today, we honored the public service of our Federal workforce and highlighted progress around the President’s initiatives at the Unlocking the Full Potential of America’s Federal Workforce event. White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough announced the President’s executive order on Strengthening the Senior Executive Service.  In 2016, more than 60 percent of the Federal Government’s SES leaders will be eligible to retire.  The impending SES “retirement wave” provides a unique opportunity to recruit and develop the next generation of leaders. Based on recommendations from the White House Advisory Group to Strengthen the SES, today’s EO, and related administrative actions, focuses on 1) Hiring the Best Talent, 2) Strengthening SES Development, and 3) Improving SES Accountability, Recognition, and Rewards, among other actions so the Federal Government remains competitive in attracting and retaining world-class talent to serve the American people.

We also announced the inaugural winners of the President’s Customer Service Awards. These talented public servants led efforts to improve services for the public and positively impacted American lives.  This summer, Federal agencies nominated programs and employees that excelled in their fields to improve services  the public and exemplify how our government can deliver excellent service to our customers.  This year’s inaugural President’s Customer Service Award recipients are:

Individual Awards:

  • Ms. Shawn Lynch, Social Security Administration - AL Field Office:  Shawn Lynch has led efforts to drastically reduce appointment wait times, increase registrations, and clear the backlog of applications at the Dothan, Alabama Social Security field office.  Through her outreach to the community from March to July 2015, Ms. Lynch helped increase the number of registrations at the Dothan office by 488 percent and reduce the backlog of Supplemental Security Income overpayment files by around 70 percent.
     
  • Dr. Justin Springer, Veterans Affairs, DeBakey VA Medical Center:  The Mental Health Inpatient Unit at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center provides services to veterans when they are in the midst of a mental health crisis.  Recognizing the importance of providing high-quality service during this critical time, Dr. Justin Springer systematically identified and implemented 19 different initiatives to improve customer satisfaction.  His efforts have led to an almost 10 point increase in overall inpatient satisfaction since FY 2012.

Initiative Awards:

  • Global Entry Program: The Global Entry Program has facilitated over 17.2 million crossings and saved over 287,000 working hours of Customs and Borders Officers by expediting clearance of pre-approved, low-risk travelers into the United States.  The average wait time for members is 84 percent less than it is for travelers not enrolled in the program.
     
  • Consulate of Dhahran, Saudi Arabia Team, U.S. Department of State: Faced with increasing safety concerns for its customers, the staff at the Consulate at Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, devised innovate strategies to deliver direct, off-site services to hundreds of Americans for the first time.  Through their efforts, the team eliminated the need for Americans to travel on dangerous roads to reach the Consulate and saved hundreds of travel hours for its customers.
     
  • BusinessUSA Veteran Entrepreneur Initiative: The BusinessUSA Veteran Entrepreneur Initiative has streamlined a complicated process to provide veterans with easy access to resources on how to start or grow a new business.  Previously, Veterans seeking this information had to navigate through multiple government websites that often used different terminology and provided inconsistent advice. Since its launch on July 1, 2014, over 250,000 veterans have been served.

We also had the opportunity to hear about the work of our inaugural class of White House Leadership Development Fellows.  These emerging leaders rotate to different agencies on complex, high-priority assignments to build and strengthen enterprise leadership skills and address cross-agency challenges.  The application season for the next round of fellows will open in early 2016.  

Finally, we also recognized the service of the 2015 Presidential Rank Award Winners. These career civil servants are recognized for their distinguished contributions to public service.

Along with honoring the work of our Nation’s public servants, we must also continue to hold the Federal workforce to the highest level of accountability for our citizens.  This is why OPM released a final rule in September 2015 to help standardize a framework for performance management of all SES members and hold leaders accountable for individual and agency performance.  Fewer than three months since implementation of the rule, the new requirements are already being met by more than 90 percent of the agencies that voluntarily adopted the basic SES performance appraisal system.  Agencies are also using executive reviews to gauge performance by collecting customer and employee perspectives, determining how well senior executives promote diversity, and analyzing their employees’ productivity and effectiveness.

As we round out 2015, we hope you’ll take a moment to reflect upon how America’s public servants work to make your life better each and every day.  And we hope you’ll join the President in honoring the work our Federal employees do day in and day out on behalf of our Nation

Shaun Donovan is the Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.
Beth Cobert is the Acting Director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Acting OPM Director Beth Cobert standing with PRA Winners

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FACT SHEET: Executive Order on Strengthening the Senior Executive Service (SES)

One of the key pillars of the President’s Management Agenda is building a world-class Federal workforce, starting with strengthening the Senior Executive Service.  The Federal government’s executive corps is comprised of thousands of hard working and dedicated leaders. The Administration is committed to investing in and supporting these leaders and ensuring agencies are developing talent pipelines for the future. 

To this end, the President announced the creation of the White House Advisory Group (WHAG) to Strengthen the Senior Executive Service in December 2014. Comprised of 24 leaders from across the Federal government, the WHAG was charged with making recommendations to the Administration to improve the way the Federal government recruits, hires, develops, manages, retains, and ensures accountability for its senior career leaders.

Over the past year, OMB and OPM, working collaboratively with the WHAG, sought the viewpoints of many agencies and stakeholder groups and incorporated feedback and input on proposals that have led to the recommendations issued in an Executive Order on December 15 and additional actions the Administration will take to strengthen the SES. The actions focus on three key areas: 1) Hiring the Best Talent, 2) Strengthening SES Development, and 3) Improving SES Accountability, Recognition, and Rewards.

Implementation:

All agencies are required to implement four key recommendations – 1) streamline the hiring process, 2) develop a plan to increase rotations, 3) increase aggregate spending on performance awards, and 4) increase the initial basic rate of pay to ensure SES/SL/ST earn more than General Schedule employees where they work. A phased approach will be used to implement four other recommendations in the Executive Order – establish talent management and succession planning processes, require executive ownership of recruiting and hiring, increase professional development requirements, and create an onboarding program – among the 24 Chief Financial Officers Act agencies, with seven agencies implementing in FY2016, seven in FY2017 and the rest in FY2018.

The Executive Order also creates a Subcommittee of the President’s Management Council (PMC) to advise OPM, members of the PMC, and the President on implementation of the order and additional ways to strengthen and improve the SES workforce. The Deputy Director for Management at OMB, the Director of OPM, and three other members of the PMC will serve on the Subcommittee.  The Subcommittee will select at least two career members of the SES to advise them and will collaborate with the Chief Human Capital Officers Council.

1. HIRE THE BEST TALENT

  • Require Executive Ownership of Strategic Recruitment and Hiring - Agency Deputy Secretaries (or their direct designees) will track and monitor SES vacancies and recruiting efforts on a regular basis, dramatically increasing senior leadership attention for recruitment and hiring.
  • Streamline the Career SES Hiring Process - OPM will evaluate the final materials agencies are required to submit to OPM in order to make an SES selection determination and propose alternative materials acceptable for consideration. Based on guidance from OPM, agencies will make changes to streamline their hiring process to make it more efficient, effective and less burdensome for applicants and agency human resource officials.
  • Establish Talent and Succession Management Processes - Building on successful models currently employed at the Department of Defense and in the Intelligence Community, agencies will establish a talent and succession management process for SES employees (and Senior Level (SL) and Senior Scientific of Professional (ST) employees as appropriate) to annually inform decisions about hiring, career development, and executive rotations.

2. STRENGTHEN SES DEVELOPMENT

  • Increase SES Rotations - Agencies will develop plans to facilitate the rotation of their SES based on the needs of the agency and the developmental needs and growth opportunities of the executive. Rotations will provide more executives, especially those in generalist positions, varied work experiences, developmental opportunities and an enterprise-wide perspective. While agency-specific targets will not be required, the order establishes a government-wide goal of 15% of SES members rotating for a minimum of 120 days (including to different departments, agencies, subcomponents, functional areas, sectors, and non-Federal partners) during FY2017
  • Increase SES Development Requirements - Executives will complete a minimum of one professional development activity per year and receive a leadership assessment, such as a “360-degree” multi-rater evaluation, at least every three years to inform their individual developmental needs. Non-career SES and equivalent appointees will also participate in regular leadership assessments.
  • Create SES Onboarding Program - Agencies will establish formal onboarding programs for new executives informed by a framework created by OPM and PPO and successfully piloted in six agencies in 2015. Onboarding will be provided for career and non-career SES, SL and ST employees, and SES-equivalent positions.

3. IMPROVE SES ACCOUNTABILITY, RECOGNITION AND REWARDS

  • Retain and Reward More Top Performers by Increasing the Limit on Aggregate Spending on Performance Awards - The order increases the limit on aggregate spending on agency performance awards for SES and SL/ST employees from the current 4.8% cap to 7.5% (the average agency percentage spent in 2010 before OMB/OPM guidance restricted it). OPM will provide guidance, as appropriate, to agencies regarding the distribution of these awards and how they should allocate awards in a manner that provides meaningfully greater rewards to top performers. 
  • Increase the Initial Rate of Basic Pay for SES Employees so they Earn More than General Schedule Employees - The heads of agencies with SES positions that supervise General Schedule (GS) employees will implement policies for initial pay setting and pay adjustments, as appropriate, for career SES so their compensation will exceed that of their subordinate GS employees. Similar policies will be implemented by heads of agencies for SL and ST employees that supervise GS employees.
  • In addition to the reforms outlined in the Executive Order, OMB and OPM will undertake a number of administrative actions. For example, OPM will launch an education campaign on SES performance and accountability and will establish an expert team to consult two or three agencies to address SES conduct and performance challenges.  

 


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Have you ever dreamed about going to Mars? Want to spend some time on the International Space Station? With USAJOBS, OPM is helping NASA find the next generation of future astronauts.

We are proud to support NASA’s efforts to recruit and hire our country’s future space explorers. Working with NASA to help and support the talent it needs to fulfill its exciting missions on and off this planet is just one example of OPM’s commitment to helping agencies across government attract, recruit, hire, and retain the best and most talented workforce to serve the American people.

USAJOBS.gov is the Federal Government’s one-stop shopping site for Federal jobs. We are transforming this site into more than just a place to apply for a job. We want prospective Federal employees to be able to explore USAJOBS to learn about what Federal careers they might be eligible for and how their skills and qualifications match up with particular positions.  And, we want someone who is new to applying for Federal service to know what kind of career path and promotional possibilities lie ahead.

In fiscal year 2015, there were nearly 1.2 billion searches on USAJOBS.gov and nearly 350,000 Federal Job Opportunity Announcements posted.

In order to learn how best to make USAJOBS more user friendly, we went straight to users. We did interviews with college students, held focus groups, and we invited users to send us messages about how we could improve the customer experience.

One thing we learned is that we needed to make job announcements shorter, and in more plain language. We are doing that. We also created a map search page that allows applicants to click on a particular part of the country – and the world - and learn what job opportunities are there.  You can also see where the jobs you want are located. Want to be a geologist? You can enter it on the map search page and see if and where the Federal Government has openings.

We’ve also improved the display of our site so you can easily find and apply for a job whether you are looking at USAJOBS on your mobile phone, your tablet, your laptop or desktop.

Early in the New Year, you’ll see a new look and feel on USAJOBS, a design that was driven by our users. It will be a more intuitive and easier to navigate.  And more changes are on the way.

So whether you have worked in engineering, science, medicine, computer science, mathematics or other related fields and have looked up at the skies and wondered what it would be like to work in outer space, I invite you to go to USAJOBS.gov and search for Astronaut.

OPM is proud to help NASA and our sister agencies across the Federal Government recruit, train, develop, and retain the Federal workforce of today and the future.


On Wednesday, OPM brought its annual small business conference to Morgan State University’s Earl G. Graves School of Business and Management in the heart of Baltimore. There I met Jackie Boone.

Her story is a perfect example of the work OPM and the Administration are doing in communities all across the country to help entrepreneurs grow and develop their businesses.

Jackie founded Boonerang Consulting, a Baltimore company that provides insurance, management, and facilities consulting services, primarily to government clients.

As part of the Administration’s efforts to support entrepreneurs like Jackie, this past summer a Federal team from across government encouraged Goldman Sachs to increase its small business development efforts in Baltimore HUBZone communities. With help from the Small Business Administration and Baltimore City Hall, Goldman selected five local businesses to enroll in its 10,000 Small Business Initiative program. This 13-week national program helps small business leaders develop and grow their companies. It’s just the kind of public-private partnership that the Administration is spearheading across the country.

Boonerang Consulting was one of the businesses chosen. The program, Jackie says, helped transform her 7-year old business. It provided her with a clear growth plan, including how she could expand into the private sector market and connecting her with new clients and a national network of business experts.

At our event on Wednesday, Jackie met an official from GSA and the two are already talking about how Boonerang, which already has two contracts with the U.S. Army, can work with GSA in the future.

Events like OPM’s, she says, “are well worth my time, even if I get just one new piece of information.” And Wednesday, she said, she got a lot more than that.

Entrepreneurs like Jackie are the very business owners we are trying to reach, especially in inner cities like Baltimore and at campuses like Morgan State.

I’m very proud that OPM is the first Federal agency to partner with an Historically Black College to host its small business event. It was a great match. In all of our work at OPM – whether in helping agencies hire the best talent or working with our small business contractors – we stress the importance of diversity and inclusion, which is also a key priority for the President.

At Wednesday’s event, OPM’s Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization, seven other government agencies and six private sector firms were on hand to help local business owners learn what they need to do to successfully bid for government contracts.

In fiscal year 2014, the Federal Government awarded nearly $92 billion in small business contracts. And, in fiscal year 2015, OPM surpassed its goal of awarding 25 percent of our contracts to small businesses. In fact, last year we awarded more than one third - 34 percent – of our contracts to small businesses.

Events like our small business conference in Baltimore not only help inform business owners like Jackie about the Federal contracting process and what they can do to compete, they help OPM and our fellow agencies learn what more we must do to help work with and support the American economy’s fastest-growing sector – small business.Acting Director Beth Cobert and Jackie Boone together at the small business conference.


Of the many things OPM’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) reveals, one thing is clear: The more agencies across government engage and include their employees, the more satisfied, productive, and motivated the workforce becomes. 

I was glad to be part of a celebration Tuesday of the agencies that have taken that message to heart and either rank highest or have shown the most improvement in the Partnership for Public Services’ Best Places to Work in Government report. The Partnership’s report is based on the great work OPM does to produce the FEVS and analyze the survey’s results. 

Whether it was the Department of Labor, whose score went up 4.4 points, or the Housing and Urban Development, whose score increased by 8 points, or the Federal Maritime Commission, whose score rose by nearly 15 points, there was continued progress this year.  

And congratulations to NASA, which maintained its top ranking among large agencies; the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which was on top among mid-size agencies; and the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, which led the way among small agencies as the best places to work, according to the Partnership’s report.

Progress and results like this do not happen by accident. It takes hard work and leadership throughout an organization, and I salute the agencies across government that have taken this challenge seriously.

At OPM we provide leaders and managers a suite of tools to help them improve employee engagement. For example, the FEVS survey provides valuable data. This year, OPM produced more than 26,000 agency- and office-level reports, up from 21,000 last year. And those reports were sent to agencies a month ahead of schedule.

Having data at this micro-level allows managers to drill down into the information and learn what engagement strategies worked and where more work needs to be done to unlock the full potential of the Federal workforce. 

We know that employee engagement is a leading indicator of excellent performance. To help leaders most effectively use the FEVS data to enhance engagement, OPM created an interactive tool we call UnlockTalent.gov. We are continually refining and updating that dashboard, and for the first time this year, the public was given access to this valuable information.

OPM has also created an index we call the New Inclusion Quotient – or New IQ. This initiative is designed to help employees and managers foster diversity and inclusion in the workplace. So far, more than 15,000 Federal employees have taken our training on how to create and sustain a diverse and inclusive workforce.

And more data analysis is coming. OPM’s policy analysts have drilled down into the FEVS data to determine the key factors that influence employee engagement. We will soon be providing agencies with a full analysis, but I can report that we found that the five main drivers of employee engagement are: meaningful performance feedback conversations; management styles that foster communication and collaboration; adherence to merit system principles; employee training and development, and work/life balance.

At OPM we are committed to providing leaders and managers across government with the tools they need to create and maintain an engaged, inclusive, diverse, and talent Federal workforce that can best deliver on its mission to serve the American people.

Acting OPM Director Cobert speaks from the podium at the Partnership for Public Service's Best Places to Work event.

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