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Speeches & Remarks

Remarks of OPM Director John Berry

America's Aging Workforce

Tyson's Corner, VA

September 28, 2012

As prepared for delivery.

Congressman Connolly, thank you for that introduction, and thank you for inviting me to be here today.

It's been a real pleasure to work with Gerry on issues relating to Federal workers – from telework, the Federal Internship Improvement Act, to the new phased retirement law he is a tireless and visible advocate for the Federal workforce. We appreciate his thoughtful work on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, where I work with him closely given his position on the Federal Workforce Subcommittee. The last two years he has been a key player in making sure that our FAA employees didn't fall through the budget cracks, and that they ultimately were paid. And this year, above and beyond, he's been working on two issues close to my heart – the Federal Executive Boards and the Feds Feed Families drive.

He told me I had to be out here in Fairfax to see what you've been doing with public-private partnerships, and I'm really glad to be here.

As the Congressman can tell you, sometimes it helps to get a bit of a business perspective on the operations of government.

For example, we're now training Federal HR professionals much more efficiently, thanks to a look at what businesses were already doing. Three years ago, every agency in the Federal government was buying their own HR training – even when it was the exact same training module that another agency had already bought.

The private sector worked out a better model years ago – the corporate university, where the technical skills your workers need can be learned through a central resource. Departments aren't on their own and aren't making duplicate purchases.

We call our version HR University. By purchasing a training once, and posting training to HRU.gov, we're saving money and enabling HR professionals at any agency to gain access. HRU has been operating for about a year and a half, and we've already saved over $23 million. We've also begun the further step that many companies take – working with colleges to accredit those trainings, so employees can work toward a degree.

We also took a look at private sector practices in hiring. The private sector has been moving forward with some very sophisticated approaches to analyzing resumes, and meanwhile the Federal system was stuck in the slow-moving past. We were using essay questions to measure Knowledge, Skill and Ability on more than half our job announcements. We didn't have a timely system for letting applicants know we'd received materials. And it took more than 120 to hire a new employee.

I'm very proud to say that we've now moved the Federal government into the world of the resume, and we've sped up our process more than 15%. Now we're in a position where we can take advantage of some of the analysis tools you've been using and refining – and we can do it quickly enough that we can compete better for top talent.

Earlier this year, when we had to dramatically boost our efficiency in processing retirement applications, we called in a Navy Lean/Six Sigma team to apply process efficiency principles developed on auto assembly lines. Along with other efforts from our partners and an incredible amount of work by our employees, we've been able to turn around the trend in Retirement processing. Instead of a growing backlog of about 60,000 applications, we now have a shrinking inventory of about 40,000 – on track to disappear entirely by this time next year.

And with a project just now getting off the ground, we've taken a page from the private-sector playbook for a new approach to innovation. We wanted to figure out how we could make the Federal government more innovative, and better prepared to find new solutions to challenges we face in the modern era. I had the opportunity to visit companies both large and small to learn about their approach to innovation.

We found a few things kept popping up. For example, each company had emphasized spaces for people to come together, get out of routines and habits, and test out ideas in a safe environment. We also learned about Human Centered Design, an approach to innovation that helps people and groups reconsider old ideas and work through new ones by getting at the core challenges.

So we decided to take these ideas home and give them a try. The result is OPM's new Innovation Lab, a space that we've opened, with facilitators trained in Human Centered Design techniques. I'm looking forward to seeing how the new approach helps us with some of these complex challenges, governmentwide.

Now, we also have practices in the Federal government – particularly in HR – that I'd like to see the private sector adopt more widely.

For example, my agency coordinates the Veterans Employment Initiative. We took a look at what we could do and we realized that among other things, there was a terminology gap between military and civilian life – hiring managers didn't understand Veteran's resumes, and Veterans were having trouble sorting through civilian job descriptions to find a good match. With our partners across government, we've been able to help Veterans translate the skills they've learned into their civilian equivalents.

With that effort, and with a greater focus on the hiring authorities in Federal regulations, we've boosted 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%.

I absolutely hope you're looking at our Veterans just the same as we are. While my office has been focusing on the Federal policies, the First Lady and Dr. Biden have been working with the private sector through the Joining Forces campaign, inspiring businesses to pledge to hire Veterans and military spouses. 125,000 Veterans and military spouses have been hired thanks to Joining Forces. I hope you'll join in, too. You'll not only support a great cause, you'll get a talented employee in the bargain.

We've also focused our attention on hiring among people 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 if we aren't hiring from this pool?

The good news is that our efforts are getting results. Last year 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 percentage in 20 years. In total, more than 200,000 people with disabilities now work for the federal government, also the most in 20 years.

One of the keys to our growing success over the years is extremely simple: counting. It's hard to say if your policies are working or not, if you don't know how many employees are potentially affected. Giving employees a confidential opportunity to self-disclose a disability after we've hired them enables us to assess our policies against similar data going back all the way to 1973.

We've also worked to make sure our accommodations programs are second to none, and that their budgets are independent of the departments making hiring decisions. At OPM, if you have to raise a desk to accommodate a new hire in a wheelchair, it won't impact your budget. That means that our hiring decisions are focused on whether our applicants can do the job – and nothing else.

It's my hope that we can continue to draw best practices from one another, and carry forward the blend of entrepreneurial success and self-government that makes America great.

Let me leave you with a thought about that place in history. Our nation, and our generation, have been privileged to stand at a peak.

Keep in mind – recorded history is short. Only 6,000 years long.

And history is not an ever-rising line. Its valleys last longer than its peaks. The age of Augustus and the age of Pericles lasted less than a generation each. And yet after the dark ages, people in Europe were still able to look back at their bright light, and draw on their ideas to spark the Renaissance and the Reformation.

Our place in history has been far higher and our moment has lasted far longer. In the days since Neil Armstrong took his small step onto the moon, we've seen the decoding of the human genome, the invention of the internet, the near eradication of smallpox and polio, and food production for a world population that has nearly doubled.

And we're not done yet. Together, we can build our towers taller and our beacons brighter, to shine out across history – so that generations from now people can still look up and say – there! That is what people can accomplish.

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

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