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Speeches & Remarks

Remarks of OPM Director John Berry

Diversity Inclusion and Innovation in Government 2012 National Conference

Georgetown University

September 12, 2012

As prepared for delivery.

Thank you, Veronica, for the kind introduction. Veronica is leading the way to build a diverse and inclusive workforce in the Federal government and I can't thank her enough for the important and critical work she is doing.

I also want to thank Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business for holding this conference on the intersection of two critical issues of our time: diversity and innovation.

As the Federal government's chief people person, I can tell you that we need diversity and an inclusive workplace environment to inspire innovation. Innovation comes from our most valued asset: our people; and can only happen when new and diverse perspectives are applied to how we currently do business. Without innovation, we will not be able to tackle the many complicated challenges facing government today.

To achieve these goals, we have implemented a number of government-wide strategies.

A big part of diversity and innovation is hiring the right people. Through hiring reform we've brought the Federal hiring system closer to the twenty-first century. We've cut down hiring time, improved our electronic applications, streamlined the process to a resume-based system, shortened job announcements, and eliminated Knowledge Skill and Ability essays. We're finally off KSA island, and into the world of the resume. Moving to the resume means that we can build on all the assessment methods that the private sector has spent billions of dollars developing.

One of the first Executive Orders the President issued to drive diversity in the Federal government was to increase the employment of veterans in the Federal government. At the President's direction, we've implemented the Veterans Employment Initiative, boosting hiring of Veterans in the Federal workforce from 24% of new hires in 2009 to 28.3% in 2011 - the highest it's been in twenty years.

Through those same efforts we've boosted hiring of Veterans with disabilities from 7% to 9%. Hiring more Veterans not only means that we honor their service - it means that we keep their skills and all the investment we've made in their training working for our country. It makes good business sense.

With those initiatives well underway, we've continued to move ahead with efforts to make it easier to start a Federal career. We're very excited that new regulations on Student Pathways into government are now a reality.

There are three clear and streamlined pathways: First, current students - and I see some with us today - can apply to internships. Second, people who have graduated get a two-year window to apply to recent graduates programs. And third, our revitalized Presidential Management Fellows program now lines up with the academic year.

Through each of these three pathways, participants can learn what it's like to work in government, gain on-the-job experience, and have the possibility of converting into Federal employment. We hope that these pathways will better enable the Federal government to recruit and retain top talent fresh from learning the latest skills.

Executive Order 13548 aims at increasing Federal employment of individuals with disabilities. People with disabilities too often are labeled by what they can't do. Yet they're the only group that we could all potentially join - disabilities touch people from every race, religion, and background. And they're a huge group - over 54 million Americans. Among those 54 million, how many amazing managers, how many brilliant engineers, how many incredible analysts are we missing because we won't accommodate them?

I say won't accommodate, not can't, because in the Federal government we have excellent programs that provide technical assistance to disabled employees. We have disability hiring authorities that mean you can hire a qualified person on the spot. We even have a database filled with resumes of qualified applicants ready to hire today.

And we're seeing results. Last year Federal employees with disabilities represented 7.41 percent of the overall workforce and 11 percent when the figures include veterans who are 30 percent or more disabled. Additionally, people with disabilities represent 7.96 percent of all new hires and 14.7 percent of all new hires when veterans who are 30 percent or more disabled are also included - the highest in 20 years. In total, more than 200,000 people with disabilities now work for the federal government, also the most in 20 years. That's great work, and we're only going to get better.

To specifically address the underrepresentation of Hispanics in the Federal workforce, we assembled the Hispanic Council on Federal Employment - and their co-chair is my Chief of Staff, Liz Montoya. The latest statistics show about 4,000 more Hispanics working in the Federal government today.

We also saw more Hispanics joining the Senior Executive Service last year, moving from 2.7 percent in 2010 to 5.4 percent in 2011. That's a strong jump that means that Hispanics now make up 4.1 percent of the SES. It's progress in the right direction, but we believe we can do more.

Starting this month, we will be able to look closely at applicant data at each stage in the hiring process for about 70% of job announcements. This data will help us identify where the challenges are in the hiring process.

For example, if we see that we have very few Hispanic applicants, then that suggests we're not reaching the Hispanic community with our recruitment. And if we see we have a lot of Hispanic applicants whose resumes don't show the right skills or experience, that would tell us something different - that we have to do better explaining what skills are needed for these jobs, and explaining how to find jobs that match your skills.

And make no mistake, we are reaching out. We're partnering with student programs, Veterans programs and Hispanic Serving Institutions to promote our Student Pathways Programs and promote the idea of a career in Federal civil service. We want to make sure Hispanic Veterans are fully aware of Veterans hiring authorities and opportunities. And we want to make students and agencies alike aware that student interns can potentially convert into Federal employees, and that student loans can sometimes be deferred or repaid under existing programs.

Each of these efforts fits in with our broad mission to recruit, retain and honor a world-class workforce for the American people. But they also fit with specific direction from President Obama.

By Executive Order, the President directed OPM to take the lead in developing and implementing plans for Diversity and Inclusion in each Federal agency. We've encouraged agencies to consolidate the plans they already have in place, and make sure they not only make good policy, but become good practice.

Each plan shares in four main pillars:

First pillar: An active and robust diversity and inclusion council, to keep up the attention and focus within each agency.

Second pillar: Mentorship. Mentors are key supports to any career - including mine. They help answer questions that are daunting to even ask. How do I earn a promotion? How do I give helpful feedback to colleagues?

Third pillar: Diversified leadership. Currently, we're partnering with NOMAR, LULAC and several other organizations, to develop a Senior Executive Leadership program for Hispanics.

Fourth pillar: Metrics and accountability, so that we can measure the impact of our plans, across agencies.

Together, these initiatives lay the groundwork for a more diverse and inclusive workforce for the American people.

Yet one of the greatest things about diversity is how it fosters innovation. At the heart of diversity is the act of looking at our assumptions and saying, what if that isn't true? What if we could make that different? What if that doesn't have to be so? Where there is a lack of diversity, rest assured, there is a lack of innovation. Where there is great diversity, greater innovation.

That idea is at the center of OPM's newly minted Innovation Lab. Now, the idea for the Innovation Lab came right from some of the premier companies of the world: Facebook, Google, Kaiser, and Zappos, among others. We went to these companies and asked them how they do innovation, and they all told us the same thing: it's not just about the space, though that's important. It's about the approach: using human-centered design to solve complex problems.

The basic idea behind human centered design is that of diversity-bringing together people of different backgrounds and occupations, and putting them in settings with which they are unfamiliar.

Upon seeing a freshly plowed field, the American inventor Philo Farnsworth envisioned transmitting images through air, an insight that would lead to the invention of the television. We can't make a breakthrough happen, but we can foster diversity of perspective to make sure breakthroughs organically occur.

For example, you can go into our lab and see how folks who aren't known to speak up tend to gain an enormous amount of confidence in a human-centered design development session.

You can see how just a handful of people can brainstorm 70 or 80 ideas on an issue in a matter of 10 or 15 minutes.

Or you can see how it quickly humbles those who think they have all the answers, folks who presuppose a solution or an approach, and encourages them to pay closer attention to their group colleagues.

There is a science to breaking people out of their routines, and our Innovation Lab is one step in that direction, one step closer to that vision.

The vision of an America where ecologists help logistics experts to plan truck routes more efficiently, or where astronomers unintentionally unravel old ecology mysteries.

An America where scientists join together with engineers to make breakthroughs on complex problems in both of their fields.

An America where an abundance of these intersections of fields, disciplines and cultures, generate an abundance of extraordinary new ideas.

In that America I see no limit, and nothing to hold us back.

More importantly, in that America, I see a diverse people, and the most innovative one in the world.

We often think of diversity as a concept born in the 1960s. But think about it.

The first person killed in the American Revolution was Crispus Attucks, a black man with Wampanoag ancestry, who died at the Boston Massacre in 1770.

In 1863, Corporal Joseph H. De Castro carried the Massachusetts flag into battle at Gettysburg. With only the flagpole as his weapon, he struck down opponents amidst the onslaught of Pickett's charge, and became the first Hispanic American awarded the Medal of Honor.

In 1883, the world's longest suspension bridge opened, taller than any building in the Western hemisphere. It was the Brooklyn Bridge, an engineering marvel capably managed through construction to completion by Emily Roebling, who was, by the way, a woman.

The Moon Shot: The average age in Neil Armstrong's mission control room in Houston? 26.

Diversity made America, innovation made America, they continue to make America, and they continue to make it great.

But here's the good news. All these examples - each of these amazing accomplishments - came in times when we said 'no' to diversity, in times when we were hostile to divergent thought. Think of what we can accomplish when we embrace diversity. When we build on our differences rather than boot them.

I look at this audience - especially at the students here today, and I see a future that is better and brighter than we have seen before. Because there is no challenge we cannot meet when we unleash the full potential of the American spirit.

Diverse. Inclusive. Innovative. Accepting. Great.

That it is the America of tomorrow.

Thank you, God Bless you, and God Bless the United States of America.

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