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Speeches & Remarks

Remarks of OPM Director John Berry

Society of American Indian Government Employees

Tulsa, Oklahoma

June 14, 2011

As prepared for delivery

Thank you, Danny Garceau for the introduction. As Danny said, I'm John Berry, from Rockville, Maryland and Washington, DC. It is an honor to be at SAIGE and to speak from the same stage as Former Principal Chief Ross Swimmer, Principal Chief John Red Eagle, and Secretary of the Nation Kevin Dellinger. Thank you to the Cherokee, Osage, and Muscogee Creek Nations for hosting this conference, and for the wonderful opening ceremony. Thank you.

And let me also thank SAIGE for the work you do to educate government agencies. You help all of government improve our services to American Indian and Alaska Native communities, and recruit from your communities.

Last year, OPM's Deputy Director, Chris Griffin was here, and we're represented throughout the conference this year as well.

And OPM's Director of Healthcare and Insurance, John O'Brien, is up in Milwaukee at National Congress of American Indians this week to engage in meaningful consultations about how we bring tribal employees into our Federal Employee Health Benefits Family, and I'll say more on that in a moment.

We're here to honor the nation-to-nation relationship. We're here because we want more American Indians and Alaska Natives in the Federal government - in every part of the Federal government. And we're here to listen and learn from you - to put real teeth in our consultations.

So I will speak about what we're doing at the Office of Personnel Management and within the Obama administration to create opportunities for American Indians and Alaska Natives. Then I'll outline some areas where we want to ask for your help - where we want your ideas and feedback about how we can work together to achieve our goals.

Over the last two years, we've done some basic "nuts and bolts" stuff at OPM, things that were not easy, but that most everyone agreed were important. We've jump-started veterans' hiring because, to me, "VET" stands for "valued, experienced, and trained," and we need to keep veterans in government.

So we've built an infrastructure and set aggressive goals, and we're already getting results. In fiscal 2010, we hired over 72,000 vets into federal service - roughly 2,000 more than fiscal 2009 - even though we hired roughly 11,000 fewer people total. And starting from a smaller base, we hired roughly 2,700 more disabled veterans.

I know Danny is a veteran, and I'm sure there are many more in the audience - I've heard estimates from the Department of Veterans Affairs that 25 to 30 percent of men living on reservations are veterans. So let me say two things: first, thank you for your service… and second, since members of your communities serve in our armed forces at very high rates, this program should help us hire more American Indians and Alaska Natives. We're excited about that, and I encourage your veterans track to engage with our program staff - we can put you in touch with them.

Next, we've reformed the hiring process to make it quicker, more responsive to applicants, and more focused on manager involvement. By making our jobs easy to apply for, but tough to get, we'll get top quality applicants from every community. The great workers we have now are reaching retirement age at a record pace, and we have to be prepared.

One aspect of hiring reform is USAJOBS Recruit, a powerful online learning and collaboration tool. Among other features, it has a college sorter that can help agencies focus their recruiting on tribal colleges and universities.

We've pushed to increase the use of telework. Employees working from home make our operations more efficient, helps us retain great employees by giving them a better work-life balance, and makes us more resilient in weather and other emergencies. Eighty-five percent of Federal employees work outside of Washington, DC. Talented people from all across America should be able to serve in our government. Where they live should not be a barrier. Telework is a growing part of the solution.

We've launched a new innovation era in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, which is nine million members strong - and growing. We're excited to add Tribal employees - even before the state-operated insurance markets, for the general public, go live. We have a real opportunity here to provide Tribes and their employees with a vital service. Our presence at NCAI is just one part of our process of meaningful consultation. And of course, any member can get self and family coverage for children up to age 26.

We're getting FEHBP's insurance companies to cover preventive care with no co-pay and introducing other far-sighted reforms. Nudging them to make these investments in the long term health of their members will also benefit the government as an employer.

To keep the focus on prevention, we're also piloting a worksite wellness program at OPM. These programs are good for employees, but that's not why so many of the Fortune 500 have them. They have them because they make good business sense, helping them keep employees longer and reducing the amount of sick leave and health care costs they incur.

And the Obama administration is taking the prevention message beyond Federal employees. Last month, First Lady Michelle Obama just launched her "Let's Move! in Indian Country," campaign to help fight the childhood obesity that afflicts too many young people in American Indian and Alaska Native communities.

Let me also mention another Affordable Care Act program that can help, for those who aren't part of the Federal family. The Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan, or PCIP helps people with pre-existing conditions who can't get insurance in the private market. OPM runs the program in 23 states and D.C., including Texas and Arizona.

Earlier this month, we announced that PCIP premiums are going down in many states, including the two I just mentioned. And enrollment is getting easier. Every state has a Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan, even if it isn't through our insurance carrier. So if you know anyone who might qualify, please encourage them to visit www.PCIP.gov.

As our veterans, hiring reform, and health initiatives have moved along, we've also been working on other ways to further our mission - to recruit, retain, and honor a world-class workforce to serve the American people.

Throughout a quarter-century of public service, I've always been impressed with the drive, the knowledge, and the initiative of Federal employees. But the systems they work under are all too often stifling them.

For government to truly succeed - to deliver the best services to the American people at the lowest cost - we needed to empower our people. We needed to create an innovative, collaborative culture where every employee and every team is not just allowed, but encouraged to collaborate and innovate.

My definition of collaboration starts with getting the people with the right knowledge, varied perspectives, and complementary skills into the agency.

Then, we have to get the right cross-section of those people on each project that needs them, wherever in the agency that project may reside. That's how we share knowledge and jointly develop and refine new ideas. And from that collaboration comes innovation: the successful implementation of these ideas to provide the best service to the American people.

The federal government has the unique mission of serving every American, so the knowledge, perspectives and skills we need are as diverse as our population. And that's where groups like SAIGE come in. The numbers aren't great - American Indians and Alaska Natives are only 1.8% of the Federal workforce and 0.76% at the highest pay levels. And most are concentrated at Interior and Health and Human Services.

We can do better.

As Danny and others of you may remember, I spoke about our efforts to recruit and promote people from every American community at National Coalition for Equity in Public Service earlier this year. Since then, we've continued to make progress on our goals of increasing accountability, collaboration both within agencies, and among them. Diversity, HR, and EEO offices need to work with each other inside each agency, and also share best practices with their colleagues across government.

We're seeing progress in forming communities of practice for special emphasis program managers, including American Indian and Alaska Native special emphasis program managers. We want your input, as current employees, on how this is going.

We built a Diversity and Inclusion office inside OPM to capitalize on the new momentum and do the work we need to be doing every day - developing and leading trainings; gathering and spreading best practices; analyzing data and working with agencies; building relationships with underrepresented communities and the institutions of higher education that serve them.

And I'm committing that OPM will both consult and include American Indians and Alaska Natives in all of our diversity and inclusion efforts.

Two other offices - our new Executive Resources and Employee Development office and the Student Programs office - are working hand-in-glove with the Diversity and Inclusion office to reach these goals.

President Obama gave us a big shot in the arm with the Executive Order on increasing Federal employment of people with disabilities. He set the audacious goal of hiring 100,000 people with disabilities in the next five years, and it's up to all of us to reach it.

It's not enough to get people in the door. All too often, we hire people because they're different and then fire them because they're not the same. This doesn't help anyone. We need to do better at making people feel included, so they succeed and get promoted.

We'll be launching a forum this summer on OMB's MAX portal, and populating it with articles, webinars, and discussions about building inclusive workplaces and the diverse workforces that will thrive in them. I encourage anyone who's interested to join that online community.

Today, I'm asking SAIGE to work closely with us at OPM on expanding the pipeline for American Indians and Alaskan Natives into the SES.

I'd like to form a partnership to tap into your network and listen to you on how the Government can better work with Tribal communities and SAIGE members to increase your numbers in the Senior Executive Service and other high level positions.

We also want your input - especially from the SAIGE youth track - on recruiting students and recent graduates into Federal civilian service. As you may know, President Obama established the Student Pathways program by Executive Order in December.

We're drafting the implementing regulations and they will be posted for public comment this summer. We hope you'll share your thoughts on how we can make the draft regulations even better before they go final.

Once the regulations are final, I am committing that OPM will visit tribal colleges to talk about Pathways in the coming academic year.

Each of these programs is important, but we must never lose sight of the big picture.

Since before he even took office, President Obama has been listening to American Indian and Alaska Native communities. He has met with Tribal leaders at the White House and hosted a Tribal Nations Conference with leaders of over 500 Federally recognized Tribes.

He has demonstrated his commitment to ongoing, meaningful consultation about issues that really touch people's lives.

Like the Department of Justice consulting communities to ensure that American Indian and Alaska Native women are getting the full benefit of the Violence Against Women Act, or the consultations that the Department of Agriculture is engaged in regarding the protection of sacred sites.

For Federal workforce policy at OPM, the big picture is opening the doors of opportunity to all members of tribal communities. It's important to note that this is not just for historical reasons - it's for our present and our future as well. American Indians and Alaska Natives are and always will be an absolutely integral part of the United States.

Like Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow-High Bird, an American of the Crow Nation. You may have seen him receive the Medal of Freedom from President Obama in 2009.

Over the last 97 years, Dr. Medicine Crow has led a distinguished life of service to both the Crow Nation and the United States.

He literally wrote the book on Crow culture as the tribal historian and has lectured around the country. He served with distinction in World War II, earning a Bronze Star and the French Legion of Honor. And as a conservationist, I love that he captured - rescued, more appropriately - 50 horses, in a daring raid on a Nazi officers' camp.

Dr. Medicine Crow is just one example of how you can lead a life of service to two nations.

There are many more in this room, I'm sure, and around the country. We want to tap into that civic-mindedness - that sense of common purpose and shared sacrifice that has always animated tribal nations.

Together, we will do that.

Together, we will build a government that draws on the traditions and character of all Americans, including American Indians and Alaska Natives.

For when we bring in more people of the caliber of Joe Medicine Crow, and keep them in public service; when we replace the great workers in this room who retire with a new and expanded generation of American Indians and Native Alaskans from around the country; when we do that, we will come closer to building the great American workforce of the 21st century that understands and serves all Americans in all communities.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States.

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