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March 7, 2012
As prepared for delivery
Thank you, Edward [Thomas, Recording Secretary, NCAI] for the introduction. As Edward said, I'm John Berry, from Rockville, Maryland and Washington, DC.
I'm glad to have this chance to share some of the things we've been doing at the Office of Personnel management to build on and strengthen the government to government relationships formalized in the 1970's and 80's. It's not often I get to speak before the leaders of so many nations, all at once, and it is both humbling and a great honor for me.
First, we've been working on ways to recruit and hire innovators and talented workers from every community, including American Indian, Native Hawaiian and Alaska Native communities. We have great workers in our Federal government already, but we need a steady stream of new recruits to take up and carry on that tradition.
My first priority when I started at OPM was hiring Veterans. And it's a priority that continues as more Veterans return and our conflicts abroad wind down. They have earned it. I've always thought that hiring veterans is not only fair, it's business-smart.
I've always thought that VET stands for: "Valued, experienced, trained." Our armed forces are the best in world. You know this well; more than 200,000 Veterans are American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians.
The experience, the discipline, the respect and skills of our armed forces are unparalleled. Many of you know this from your own strong tradition of service in the U.S. Armed Forces. Hiring Veterans honors their service and gets us excellent employees.
When we started in 2009, 24% of new hires were Veterans. We've moved that percentage up to 28.5% in 2011. And we've boosted our hiring of disabled Veterans as well, from 7% of new hires in 2009 to 9% in 2011.
Next, we looked at students. We found that many students and recent graduates had a tough time applying successfully to Federal jobs. Because they were students, they had the latest skills and training, but no job experience.
So at President Obama's direction, we completely overhauled our internship programs. We sought input from the public, including tribal colleges, SAIGE conference attendees, and students around the country. I'm pleased to say that the final regulations are nearly ready, on schedule to be in place by the end of the academic year. Thanks to these reforms, students and recent grads will have three clear pathways into the Federal government.
Current students will apply to internships. Recent graduates will apply to the recent graduates program. And high-achieving graduate students will apply to the revitalized Presidential Management Fellows program. Each of these programs opens the possibility that if you do your work well, and complete your program successfully, you can be converted into a full-time Federal employee.
Now, the programs I've mentioned so far apply to everyone - to all Americans. But let me speak for a moment about a benefit newly available to Tribal governments and native corporations. John O'Brien, our Director of Healthcare and Insurance at OPM and his team - Rachel Aksman (/Ax-man/) and Paul Westfall have done great work on this. Rachel and Paul are here today to help out if you have questions.
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, Urban Indian organizations carrying out programs under Title V of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act and Indian tribes or tribal organizations carrying out programs under the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act can now choose to purchase health insurance coverage for their employees through the Federal Employees Health Benefits program.
Simply put, this means that employees of tribes are for the first time entitled to the same high-quality healthcare and insurance we make available to our Federal employees and their families.
The FEHB program is ready to go now, and will bring its first Tribal employees into coverage on May 1st. You may remember that our team presented some of this information at your mid-year meeting in June.
Already, 14 tribes with over 2500 employees have taken advantage of this option and their coverage will begin May 1. If you have not taken advantage of this opportunity yet, or are still evaluating it for your tribe, don't worry. The door remains open.
You can take advantage of this provision when it works for you. Once you are enrolled, your common law employees will have the same choices and yearly options to change plans as Federal Employees.
If your tribe or your native corporation chooses to join FEHB - and many of you have already declared your intent to do so - if you join, then all common law employees of the Tribe will have the option to enroll in FEHB insurance programs.
Even if you have already made healthcare arrangements for your employees, I encourage you to take a look at FEHB, because by joining our existing pool of employees, you may be able to offer more high quality choices at competitive rates.
We've partnered with National Finance Center to make sure all the logistics and the infrastructure are ready. We've convened a monthly Tribal-Federal working group to make sure that the program is accessible. The Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Department of Health and Human Services have supported us in this new relationship with Tribal Nations and assisted us with outreach. And we've worked with your leadership to make sure we achieved the appropriate consultation between our nations.
We even set up a direct hotline, so that Tribal HR professionals can call OPM and immediately speak to a real live person about this program. We understand that smaller tribes and larger tribes will have different questions, and urban Indians and rural Indians will have different needs.
We've tried to reach out to as many tribes as possible.
We're working with HHS to reach out to you, so you'll have all the information you need on the FEHB program. We've begun trainings in areas where Tribes have already signed agreements - including a training next week in Anchorage, and we're planning more trainings in the future.
I look forward to working with you further, as we begin this new FEHB option, and we implement the Federal Employees Group Life Insurance program for Tribal Employees.
It is my intention to make this a long and a cooperative partnership, one that will span generations. Together, we will bring health and care to many, from the Bering Straits and the Great Lakes, to the Gulf Coast and the Rio Grande, and from Atlantic to Pacific.
In ancient Athens, tradition held that each youth, upon becoming an adult, swore an oath, one I believe we would do well to uphold even in these modern times. The oath is this:
"I will strive to leave my nation and world not only not less, but better, more beautiful, and more abundant than it was given to me."
As leaders in our respective nations, that is our challenge. Rising to meet it will be our joy.
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.
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