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As we take time this November to celebrate Native American Heritage Month, I also want us to recognize the outstanding work that Native American Federal employees do each and every day.
This morning, OPM had the honor to host a Native American celebration in partnership with the Department of the Interior and the Department of Energy. We came together to reflect on the accomplishments of American Indians and Alaska Natives and to rededicate ourselves to making sure that we work hard to broaden the representation of these Americans in agencies across government.
As I opened this morning’s event, I talked about how fortunate I am as Director of OPM to visit with Federal employees across our great country. In the year that I’ve been Director, I have met with students at two tribal colleges as well as with members of SAIGE, the Society of American Indian Government Employees.
I remember that at one SAIGE meeting in Albuquerque, a remarkable public servant really touched me with his definition of public service.
Reed Robinson is a member of the Lakota tribe. As the son of a State Department employee, his family has a tradition of public service. Reed began his career as a National Parks Service intern. He is now Superintendent of Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming, a 1,267-foot tall remnant of an extinct volcano.
Reed is a remarkable manager with a credo about public service that I want to share with you. Reed says that through Federal public service, you can develop a deep understanding of excellence and how to apply it.
For Reed, excellence means more than just doing your job well. It means approaching your job with integrity, humility, resilience, clarity of mission and collaboration. I couldn’t have said it better myself.
We have amazing public servants like Reed throughout our Federal family. Right here at OPM, our longest serving Native American Federal employee is Naite (Tina) Stephens. A program administrator for projects and quality control for our Human Resources Solutions program, Tina has worked for the Federal government for 34 years. She is just one example of the amazing dedication and purpose-driven mission of our talented Federal workforce.
I hope as we all rush through our busy days this November, that we take time to reflect on how lucky we are to be part of a country whose people have such rich history and traditions. And particularly this month, let us pay tribute to and honor the legacy of our First Americans, who as President Obama said in his presidential proclamation “have shaped our country’s character and culture.”
I love getting out of Washington. I’m in Albuquerque, New Mexico this week, where I joined the Society of American Indian Government Employees at its annual training program.
Going to Albuquerque was a bit of a homecoming for me and gave me a chance to talk with Native American Federal employees about my mission to build a 21st Century workforce that looks like America.
For eight years, I had the honor of being a member of the Board of Trustees of the Institute of American Indian Arts. I also was the executive director of the National Hispanic Cultural Center Foundation in Albuquerque. Being an IAIA trustee gave me a deep understanding of the richness of both the history and the culture of the Native American community. It also opened my eyes to the influences Native people have, not just the culture, but the economy of New Mexico and the region.
I told the SAIGE conference that I understand that I cannot successfully recruit from the Native American community without taking into account issues of family and tradition. As a Latina, I share that appreciation of the importance of family and history. So I asked for their help in sharing their experiences as Federal employees with their friends, neighbors and members of your community.
After the conference, I also met with Governor Paul Torres Sr. of the Isleta Pueblo and went to the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute. I talked with the students there about opportunities in Federal service and about our need for young people with the very skills in science, math, engineering and technology that SIPI focuses on.
Visits like these help give me ideas about recruiting strategies, about where best to target my efforts. As the Administration official responsible for bringing new talent to the Federal government, I am committed to developing a workforce that looks like the people it serves.
Currently, Native Americans comprise 1.7 percent of the Federal workforce and 1.1 percent of the Senior Executive Service. Most Native American Federal employees work for the Department of Interior or the Department of Health and Human Services. We must broaden that participation. We need the talents, the passions, and the contributions of the Native American community at every government agency, at every level of leadership, at every decision table.
Government may not be able to compete with private industry when it comes to money or perks. But where we can compete, and compete nobly, is in making a difference in people’s lives.
Federal employees do that every day. For me, it was attempting to comfort the families of plane crash victims when I was at the Department of Transportation and hearing from low wage workers about how a regulation helped them get a better deal at the workplace while I was at the Department of Labor. And now at OPM, I can help bring more people into the Federal service.
We need people from every community that makes up America, including Native Americans. I know that if we have a workforce that draws from as many cultural backgrounds as possible, we will be able to best serve the American people.
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