WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry and GSA Administrator Martha Johnson today kicked off a week of events to honor veterans, praising their service and sacrifices to the nation and reporting on the Administration's initiatives to help returning veterans re-enter civilian life and find meaningful employment.
“President Obama, Vice-President Biden and all members of the cabinet have made a heartfelt commitment to transform the Federal Government into the model employer of America's veterans,” Secretary Salazar said. “Our aim is to fill the ranks of federal employees with men and women who possess the technical and leadership skills, dedication, and sense of duty that Americans deserve from their public servants. Few embody those qualities like our nation's veterans.”
Executive Order 13518, issued by President Obama last November, established a coordinated federal government-wide effort to enhance veteran recruitment and training programs, reflecting a shared commitment across the Obama Administration.
“Let me be clear about one thing: we are not here today to declare victory and move on” said OPM Director John Berry. “The unemployment rate for our men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan is appalling to the President and to me. We've only begun to move the needle.”
Berry noted that in the first nine months of fiscal year 2009, 23 percent of new hires were veterans and in the same period of fiscal year 2010, 25 percent were veterans. “Our initial results are very encouraging, but there are a lot more skilled and trained veterans out there who we would be lucky to keep in public service” Berry said. “We will not rest until all of them have the opportunity to match up their skills to our jobs, apply, and get the consideration they've earned.”
“At GSA, nearly 20 percent of our new hires in fiscal year 2009 were veterans and 6.5 percent of those were disabled veterans,” said GSA Administrator Johnson. “This is nearly double what our veteran hiring was four years ago. We are also committed to aiding the veteran-owned business community by providing government contracting opportunities to the 1,000 veteran-owned businesses on our schedules.”
To carry out the veterans-hiring initiative, the President's Order established an interagency Council on Veterans Employment, and Council Executive Director Joseph Kennedy discussed the Administration's strategy and progress. As a result of the President's commitment to veterans, most federal departments now have Veterans Employment Program Offices, with full-time responsibility for enhancing employment opportunities for veterans in their respective agencies.
The ceremony also heard reports on successful transitions of U.S. warfighters to federal employment, including positions with Interior's National Park Police and OPA and GSA agencies. “Federal agencies are fortunate to have such well-qualified and highly motivated employees,” said Martin Pursley, Interior's Veterans Employment Programs Manager. “Our veterans possess skills that are exceptionally useful to our organization, such as law enforcement, mechanical, scientific and administrative abilities. They also bring vital leadership traits, such as accountability, loyalty, decisiveness and creativity.”
The U.S. Navy Band, Voices of GSA and the Military District of Washington Joint Services Color Guard participated in the ceremony in the Yates Auditorium of the Stewart Lee Udall Interior Building.