Acting, Director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to the show.
September 15, 2015 - 2:00pm to 3:00pm

Joyce welcomes Beth Cobert, acting, director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to the show.  She will discuss the OPM’s role in assisting agencies with the implementation of their plans to increase federal employment of individuals with disabilities, in support of President Barack Obama’s executive order.

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Transcript

EDITED COPY

"Disability Matters"

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 15, 2015

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    >> Tune into the VoiceAmerica variety channel on the VoiceAmerica talk radio network.  VoiceAmerica variety broadcasts a diverse array of topics reaching a global community.  Our experts come from all walks of life and the topics they discuss are everything from turn the events, arts and entertainment, leadership, parenting, relationship, self-improvement, career advice and a variety of other topics.  Check us out today.  You're sure to find something of interest.  VoiceAmerica variety, talk on today's hot topics.

>> Welcome to "Disability Matters" with your host Joyce Bender.  All comments are solely those of the hosts, guests and callers.  Now the host of "Disability Matters," Joyce Bender.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  Hey everyone, welcome to the show.  You know this year we are continuing to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and we have had powerhouses like Senator Harkin, Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, Pat Shiu, Ted Kennedy, and we're going to have another powerhouse today, which what an honor it is for me to bring you such great guests on this show.

Our guest today is the acting director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.  And before we get started, for all of our listeners across the country, there's something important I want you to know.

As you all remember, I'm a woman living with a disability, epilepsy, and as you know have been very involved in the disability community.

On her own, the acting director reached out to me because she wanted me to know how important it is for her to keep a relationship and keep improving the relationship with the disability community.

And doesn't that say a lot about her?

It is my great pleasure to introduce to you for the very first time on "Disability Matters," the acting director of OPM, Beth Cobert, welcome to the show.

>> BETH COBERT:  Thank you, Joyce, great to be here with everybody.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  It's great to have you.  Before we get rolling, I thought, I mean you have such a great background, but I don't know if a lot of people would know, it isn't just a federal government background because you had a really illustrious career at McKinsey & Company.

Here is my first question.  What the heck caused you to leave there and join the federal government?

>> BETH COBERT:  It's a complicated question but has a simple answer.  The opportunity to serve and make a difference for the American public, when that chance was offered, I thought this is what I need to do.  You know, I've been involved in many things in management and trying to make management better.  I have been very involved in the community out in San Francisco where I was from.  I come from a family of parents who sort of believe community service is the first thing you do in your spare time, not the last.  And the chance to join President Obama and the team was to me a unique opportunity.

It literally happened and when the opportunity arose I think I made the decision in about ten seconds flat.  And it was a great decision.

I actually started, I had my confirmation hearing during the government shutdown in the fall of 2013, so I actually got to have questions from a number of the senators.  I said the same thing, it's the opportunity to make a difference and the opportunity to put in place the many many things I learned over the course of my career.

And I am really delighted that I had the chance to join the president and the team and do such great work.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  We are all delighted.  You know I come out of the private sector.  I just think it's so absolutely powerful to have the combination of…here you are in the federal government, leading a huge organization, but you have that private sector background, which also brings in, as you already said, what's going on with the American people, what are they dealing with.

So I really think that's outstanding.

And you were also a leader at OMB.

While you were there you directed divisions such as the Chief Information Officer's office.  That's a big job.  I know it was even bigger than that.

Tell us about your role at OMB.

>> BETH COBERT:  OMB is a terrific institution.  It is frankly for someone coming into the government from the private sector, it was a great place to start because it has the opportunity to intervene and work with so many agencies across so many issues.

As a deputy director for management at OMB I had four statutory offices.  One was federal chief information officer.  As everybody on this phone call I'm sure realizes from day‑to‑day life, technology, information technology is so critical to everything we're doing these days, that getting that right is a big priority, a big priority for the president and a big priority for us at OMB.

I also worked with the office of Federal Procurement Policy, again helping figure out the best way for the government to procure services it needs from external parties.  The Federal Controller was part of my office, making sure we're doing the right things in terms of smartly managing the government's finances and real estate, all those kinds of issues.

Finally, the fourth group is the office of Performance and Personnel Management where we're really looking at how are we doing at the things we committed to, the agency priority and cross agency priority goals, as well as working in that case quite closely with OPM in diverse issues, how to make sure government can take advantage of the great talent out there in the country, bring those people to government, and when they are in government, give them the support they need to make sure they are engaged and make sure that we're doing what they all come to work to do every day, which is to deliver.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  Wow, when I hear about your background, I can see why you were an absolutely perfect candidate for this role, because you've already done a lot of this.

So experience like that, what can I say.  It pays off.

Anyway, Beth, you were talking about the chance to work with the president and the administration.  And no matter what, I know when I met the president for the first time, I was just overwhelmed.  I mean, it's overwhelming to meet the President of the United States no matter who the president is.

I know it has to be a big deal to anyone when they get appointed to such a role of the United States.

What did you think when President Obama appointed you to lead the largest HR agency in the United States.

>> It is incredible and President Obama is amazing.

I was incredibly honored that I would have this opportunity.  Frankly, I was really humbled by the magnitude of the task.  You know, I knew that the issues that OPM was and still is dealing with on the cyber security front were a big priority for me and the agency.  Frankly, it's a big priority.  We have folks across the federal government working with us to address these issues.

But beyond that, the rest of the work that OPM does is something that I have always felt enormous passion about.

When I was at McKinsey, beyond serving clients people take on leadership roles and I was always drawn to people, whether recruiting, training and management, I firmly believe nothing gets done unless you have the hearts and minds and skills of all the people doing the work, engage in the process.

So I was genuinely honored to have this opportunity.  A little overwhelmed, but genuinely honored.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  Yeah, I mean, I can't imagine what that would be like.  But it is absolutely a great honor.

As you said, President Obama is just amazing.  He has done so much for the disability community.  Including recently reforming Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act.  This was written 42 years ago and that one thing is going to create millions of jobs for Americans with disabilities.

But with that we're going to get ready to go to break.

Hey, if you just joined us, we're talking to Beth Cobert, the acting director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management and Obama appointee.

We'll be right back.  Don't go away.

>> Streaming live, the leader in internet talk radio, VoiceAmerica.com.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  Welcome back everyone.  We are talking to the acting director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, Beth Cobert, today.

And it is such a pleasure to have her.

I want to just mention that OPM has transformed the employment of people with disabilities in the federal government.

I know very well, and heard this discussed many times, that not very long ago, the number of people with disabilities in the federal government was declining.  Actually was less than one percent.

And I heard people from the Obama administration talking about this over and over.  But things have changed.

And my question to you is how is the government increasing the employing of people with disabilities.

>> BETH COBERT:  It has been a terrific team effort with people focused on this.

As you know in July of 2010 the president issued executive order 13548, on increasing employment of individuals with disabilities.  He did this in conjunction with marking the historic 20th anniversary of the signing of the act.

The directive was clear.  It said the federal government as the nation's largest employer had to become the model for the employment of individuals with disabilities.  And the president set a very ambitious goal, 100,000 people with disability into federal service over five years.

That seemed like a large goal at the time as it should have been.

I'm really excited that we have made great progress towards that goal.  I say we but it is really the team at OPM working with partners across every federal agency.

In 2011 and fiscal 2012 and fiscal 2013 and fiscal 2014 agencies have been working hard to implement this executive order and we're getting results.

The government has hired 71,967 nonseasonal permanent employees with disabilities, almost 72,000 people.

If you add to that part time employees, that number increases to 80,469.

If you look at all employees, you also include temporary workers, we have hired 115,221 people with disabilities.

No matter which way you cut the data, this is significant progress and sustained progress year over year over year.

What feels really good about it is our progress continues to accelerate.  We have had a good year in 14 and are looking forward to continuing that progress in 15.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  And you know what, this is absolutely phenomenal because how I remember, I was there at the White House when the president signed this executive order.  And I remember him talking about how far we need to go and where we are right now and so many other people, Senator Harkin, different people talking about that, and how dismal it was, you know, at this time but that we were going to work to change this.

Now I was at the White House at the 25th anniversary of the ADA, at the reception, and one of the things President Obama talked about is how the employment of people with disabilities in the federal government has increased.

A total change from five years before that.

So everything that's happened at OPM, you are all to be commended.

>> BETH COBERT:  Thank you.  It's a great team and their enthusiasm and commitment to this topic is truly inspiring.  It's just great.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  I know you have enthusiasm because Michael Murray works there.

>> BETH COBERT:  Exactly!

>> (Chuckles).

>> JOYCE BENDER:  By the way, as all of you, he is very well‑known in the disability rights community, but he is Mr. Enthusiasm.  He is a fire ball.

And I know how committed he is about OPM and what's happened and working with you.  So he is a great person.

Well, I must tell you, you too are very enthusiastic when you talk about disability employment.  You have been, you just seem to keep moving on with this.

Can you talk about that?

>> BETH COBERT:  Sure.

I think, you know, it starts with my belief that the key to success, as I said before, is getting great people.  And anything you can do as an employer that gives you added access to people with talent, in my mind, is a good thing to do.  It just makes good business sense to say where is the talent, do I have an advantage trying to bring them on board, and if so, how do I bring them in.

You know, from my work at McKinsey in multiple contexts I saw again and again and again the value of having people with different perspectives in a room.  It leads to better decisions.

I had a client whom I worked with, a client with a learning disability.  You know, hard time reading but this individual when you talked to him about it would tell you that that actually had helped him become an incredibly good listener.  He was in fact one of the smartest marketers I have ever met.  He had a marketing job.

Because what he was listening for and trying to understand is what did his customers really feel.  He wasn't reading the words on a page but was trying to really understand his customers.  And that gave him an incredible insight.  And he would tell you that without his learning disability he wouldn't have sharpened that insight.

So in my mind what we have is an opportunity for the federal government to, frankly, get ahead and to tap into talent that otherwise will be missing.  Talent that is going to help us make smarter decisions, talent that is going to bring us different perspectives, talent that is going to have enthusiasm and passion about the work they do.

Again, I get enthused about recruiting talented people.  And I think there's lots of places we can find them.  The disability community is a great place for us to look for talent.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  Yes, and it is a great untapped labor pool.

And I want to ask you a question.

>> BETH COBERT:  Uh‑huh.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  You were talking about that young man with the learning disability.

Don't you agree that once people are working on site, that it makes a difference?  When people see other people with disabilities?

>> BETH COBERT:  What gets me excited about where we are and the progress we have made is we're starting to get the benefits of the virtuous cycle.  Individuals are working side by side with colleagues, colleagues with disabilities.  And they see the work they do every day.  They see how dedicated they are.

And they look at that and say, you know, this wasn't that hard.  And I now have these great colleagues.  We have so many things we can do.

So I think it really becomes an opportunity for each of them to share that story with others and take the next step.

You know, there are more people with disabilities in federal service by percentage in real number than at any point in the past 34 years, and that means that there are more people inside the federal government without disabilities who are understanding what this is like and the benefits it brings to them and their mission.

I think that is, you know, that and the commitment to this is really what's driven the success and what gets me excited about our ability to sustain this going forward.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  I agree with you 100 percent, and I think we have a caller on the line.

Peggy, are you on?

>> Caller:  Yes, I'm here, Joyce.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  How are you?

>> Caller:  I'm good.  How are you?

>> JOYCE BENDER:  Good.

>> Caller:  I have to tell you, last I checked Pirates were up 3‑1 over the Cubs this afternoon.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  Thank you.  That's important news.  Thank you.

>> BETH COBERT:  I’m a Giants fan.  I'm not sure that's so important.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  Peggy is the President and CEO of the Western and Central Pennsylvania Epilepsy Foundation.

Did you want to talk for a moment to Beth?

>> I do.  I called in to say thank you, Beth, for your leadership on this really important issue.  As I was listening to you talk, I was thinking about how exciting it is for those of us who have been working in this field for many many years to have the support and the backing of folks like yourself and your office and the Obama administration.

It's so important and something that we didn't have for many years.  It's so exciting to people and advocates in the community working hard, and of course to folks who have disabilities.

So I just wanted to call in and say thank you for that and for your continued leadership and everything you have done in the past.

I also wanted to say, Joyce, thank you to the corporate community in Pittsburgh where I really think that many of our corporate leaders do get it and have been leaders in this area and have created real opportunities for people in employment, which has just been a tremendous opportunity and it's great to be part of this city.

The Pittsburgh Pirates are a great example of that.

Thank you for what you do, Beth, for providing us with your experience, expertise and your leadership.

>> BETH COBERT:  Thanks for calling.  And I really appreciate that.  I will take the thanks back to the team.  They are the people who have been sustaining this effort.  I get to ride on their coat tails, and that's one of the fun things I get to do every day.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  Before you go, Peggy, the number of people with epilepsy is one in, what?

>> Peggy:  Twenty‑six.  One in 26.  More than a lot of people realize.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  The reason I brought that up, Beth, people don't realize this but a lot of time employees in the federal government have a hidden disability such as epilepsy.  They have not disclosed it, but one in 26, that's a big amount.

>> BETH COBERT:  Right, right.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  Peggy, thank you for calling in, and have a great day.

>> Peggy:  Thank you as always, Joyce, for everything that you do.  Thanks so much for being there for everybody.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  You can count on it.

>> Peggy:  Thanks so much.  Bye‑bye.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  Hey, Beth.

>> BETH COBERT:  Uh‑huh.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  One thing I wanted to ask you.

>> BETH COBERT:  Sure.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  What do you feel are some of the other keys that you see to the government's success?

>> BETH COBERT:  It's a really good question, Joyce, and I thought about this in the context of the success we have in employment of people with disabilities and many of the other sort of cross government initiatives that I see take hold, both at my time at OMB and my time at OPM.

I think there's a set of strategies and actions making a difference here that are important and frankly shared, and we should take lessons from.

The first thing is honestly it has to start with leadership.  The commitment that President Obama and the administration made, the willingness to set a goal that seemed ambitious I think is really important.  That's one piece, leadership.

There's another piece which as I came to the federal government from the private sector, the federal government is very large and very complicated.  It has multiple different entities with different rules and different authorities and different funding sources.  And so if you want to make change in a system like the federal government that is large and diverse, you need to have more than one lever.

You absolutely have to start with leadership, but you also have to think about what are the different things we need to do to make change happen.

The executive order on hiring people with disabilities isn't the only thing, but it worked in coordination with a number of other initiatives.

The EO to increase presence of veterans, the EOs on diversity and inclusion, the Power Initiative which protects workers and ensures reemployment, is a whole set of things.  Have you is to look at the whole ecosystem something is operating in and look at the multiple levers you need to pull to get things done.

Finally we needed a collaboration across entities.  We had OPM, the White House, OMB, the chief human capital office, the EEOC, Department of Labor, and many others who came together to make this reality.

We had a team that was really committed.  Michael Murray and many others, inclusion team, really took this on as a personal mission.

The last piece I'll say which is actually a key to our success is having data.  We've got to be, if we're going to set ambitious goals, we have to see how we're making progress, the places where we are making progress faster so we can figure out what to learn from them.  We have to find places where things might be a little slower so we can figure out what is it we need to fix to get them on the right path.

Leadership, a multi‑faceted approach, a big collaborative effort, and data.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  We have an e‑mail here from Ginger in Kansas.  Here it goes.  First of all, it is an honor to be talking to you and hear what you have to say.  I appreciate so much what you're doing to continue the employment of people with disabilities.

Do you believe that people will finally see through our hard work how valuable we are?

>> BETH COBERT:  I think the answer is yes.  It comes from the real live experience of seeing people and the contributions they are making every day, and seeing the value that that adds to the team.

I think one of the other benefits of the work we've been doing in collecting data and tracking this issue, and frankly, Joyce, having you and others holding our feet to the fire, as you should, to make sure we're continuing to make progress, that way we can show case the successes we're having.

We can find ways for people to learn, as I said, from the places where stuff is working.  We can spread those practices more broadly.

There's no faster way to improve things in the federal government than finding something that's working and copying it and putting it someplace else.  We don't always have to invent from scratch, though we need to do that sometimes too.  Giving that the visibility and making those success stories known is really important.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  Also here we have Tony from Alabama.

Tony says, thank you so much for what you're doing.  My question is, if you speak across the country anywhere about the employment of people with disabilities, would we know?  Would it be on the website?  How would we know?

>> BETH COBERT:  The website is a great place to go, and I'm sure we'll find ways to get that out there.

I will tell you that I have been focusing most of my time around some of the near term issues we have at OMB around cyber security and the like.  So I have mostly been spending my time in Washington as we continue to work those through.  We have a lot of work to do and we're going to deliver on that.  We'll make sure folks know when I have a chance to get out there.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  I'm sure they will be able to find out, as you said, through your website.

But keep in mind that on this radio show, I keep you up to date, and I would certainly let you know about that.  Even if it is, by the way, speaking in an event in Washington DC.

So just stay tuned, and you'll know what's going on.

And by the way, Beth, I hope I do hear you speak about this somewhere in DC or elsewhere because I can tell you're very committed to this.

And actually think it's so refreshing to have someone in the federal government reach out and speak up the way you have, and certainly as a woman living with epilepsy and disability rights employment leader, I appreciate what you're doing.

>> BETH COBERT:  Thank you.  Thank you.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  Okay, now, here we go.  I can't even believe that I'm asking you this.  But you yourself have referred to yourself as a data geek, which is unbelievable to me.  I feel like we're at the Pittsburgh Technology Council.

Why is this so important to you?  Why is data so important to you?

>> BETH COBERT:  First of all, I am a total data geek.  I love numbers.  I think they are both fascinating and powerful.

I was sort of a statistics major because I liked numbers and had to write fewer papers in college.  I do like data.

I think data is so powerful particularly when dealing with an issue like this.  Without data, you can't make a plan.  You can't set a goal.  You can't see where you are making progress.  You can't hold people accountable.  You can't celebrate success.

So having data is absolutely key.

And I think one of the powerful moments of the president's executive order was it relied on data.  Every agency was required to look at their work force and submit a hiring plan.

What are the best practices?  Retention strategies, specific goals.

What you want to use the goals for is to encourage people to stretch.  Sometimes we aren't going to reach all our goals but that doesn't mean we shouldn't stretch.  We're going to get farther.

Having data, somebody who is accountable for implementing the plan and providing the data.

You can also get a lot of insight from data.  We're trying to figure out how to increase hiring of individuals with disabilities, and we want to know where are bottlenecks in different places.

Is it because we don't have enough applicants or because when we get through the certification process people drop out or in the interviews process or frankly if we make an offer they choose another alternative.  Or maybe there's a retention issue after they come.

The actions you take to say how do we make sure we have a great pool of applicants are very different from the actions you might take to keep and grow the talent you have, which are also very different to make sure that we are judging people fairly in the interview and certification process.

Without knowing where the follow‑off is, you don't know exactly what to do if you're not delivering against your goal.

That's why we are so interested in the inclusion quotient and others.  That helps us figure out.  Data is not the end in itself but a way to understand what's working and replicate that.  It's a way to understand where problems are and how to fix them.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  Yeah, well, I always say the numbers don't lie.  Right?

>> BETH COBERT:  No, the numbers tell a story.  That's what I prefer.  They tell a story and you have to understand the story and then act on it.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  Well, I know that one great way, speaking of data, for agencies, and they have done this, hired people with disabilities by utilizing the Schedule A hiring authority for people with disabilities, which I think is phenomenal and has made a huge difference and is just a great way to get people hired, period.

Can you tell us how the federal government is doing using that authority and things OPM is doing to increase the usage of Schedule A.

>> BETH COBERT:  Sure.  And I think this is great example of a place where the actions that OPM is taking in partnership with its agencies are using sort of multiple approaches to get the impact.

So there's a number of things we have done to help agencies use Schedule A.

One is to provide training in a variety of formats, including online, to help hiring managers and HR professionals understand how schedule A works and the value of it.

So as an example of that, OPM launched a free online course on HR University called road map to success.  The basic information and resources on how to hire, how to retain, how to advance employees with disabilities.

All employees are eligible to take it, and HR professionals and hiring managers are required to take that course.

That's sort of intro.

We then built and are working with agencies on a second much more in depth online planning for selective placement program coordinators.  These are folks at agencies working to increase employment for people with disabilities.

It includes extensive curriculum and has an exam at the end.

We want to know the people helping lead this process from an HR perspective understand how to utilize schedule A effectively and frequently.

We also are in this process trying to reach out, as you know, to the disability community to help us get information out.  We have some training programs are engaging with community partners like Vocational Rehabilitation.

These partnerships have really been key in our success in employing people with disabilities, and we actually got recognized by the Council for State Administrators for Vocational Rehabilitation as partner of the year, which I am proud of for the agency.

The last piece, Joyce, is working with you and your team at Bender Consulting.

The shared list of people with disabilities is really helpful.  This database of people eligible for employment with schedule A is a really great tool for folks look to go bring people on board.

It helps create this pipeline and enables federal agencies to tap into qualified applicants and to do so at no additional cost to the agencies, which is a critical factor in a world of tight budgets.

Everybody also on that shared list, every candidate with a disability, gets help in terms of support with interview preparation and resume development, helping them to be prepared to seize the employment opportunity and position their qualification in the most effective way so the folks hiring can find the people with the talent they need.

This has been a big deal.  In 2011, fiscal year 2011, .98 percent, less than one percent of the new hires were appointed through schedule A.  But in 2014 that number was 1.75 percent, so almost twice as much.

And that's something we are again using the data, using partners, using training to help make progress.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  I want to tell you what I call it.  I call it the OPM gift.  I say that because here you have the ability, if you are a hiring manager in the federal government, that OPM has provided for you to just go find the person, hire the person.

I have always said wow, if they had this in the private sector, like they would die, HR associates.  You know, if you could just, there you go, go, you can find the person, you don't have to have that three, four‑week time period before anyone can apply, and then need to hire the person.

I think it is just absolutely fantastic.

And actually, Beth, you and what you're doing, I think you're a great role model for human resources executives across the country to come up with new, innovative ways to hire people with disabilities, which is exactly what you're doing.

So kudos to you and your leadership.

And I hope other people, businesses listening to the show, I hope you look at this as a very innovative way to make sure people with disabilities are included in the work force.

Well, Beth, from just hearing you talk, I think you are committed to seeing people with disabilities not just get hired, because any one can just get hired, but I think you are also committed to seeing them move into leadership roles in the federal government.

That's what I believe.  And if so, I wondered which strategy you have to see that happen.

>> BETH COBERT:  You know, when I worked on issues like this in my prior life, again, it comes back to thinking about how are we working in the life cycle.

If we brought people on board, how are we helping them to grow, develop their talents, recognize their talents, and frankly keep great people doing the work we want them to do.

So we are doing more work.  We still need to do more on retaining these folks and making sure they have an equal opportunity for advancement.

We need to do more to provide them with training, to provide them with encouragement, to help them remain as excited as they are about federal service.  Frankly, we need their talent.

So we have a bunch of different strategies here as well.  One is focusing on how to make federal government an inclusive environment where everyone can contribute to their full potential.  We need an inclusive environment if we're going to deliver government services effectively to an incredibly diverse set of American people.

So for example, we are going to try to leverage the federal employee viewpoint survey, one of those pieces of data that I actually love, to ask employees to self-identify their disability status.  That will give us some data from the EVS, Employee Viewpoint Survey, to help us understand how agencies are doing in implementing initiatives to encourage and create a more inclusive work force.

We're also doing some things with candidate development programs.  That's the training ground that enables folks to get to the senior executive service.

We're working and doing training to federal employees around broad diversity inclusion strategies.

Part of what we're doing in the disability arena is holding leadership accountable.  Every agency has a senior accountable official.

We're working with agencies and affinity groups to build mentoring programs because we know great mentors seize individual success.

We are also helping agencies create employee resource groups.

Lastly, we are committed to working with agencies to make sure that people with disabilities receive their needed reasonable accommodations to perform successfully.

So we worked with the DOD computer electronic accommodation program, with CAP and the Job Accommodation Network to increase awareness of what the accommodations are and how they can be put in place as easily as possible.

We did a lot of work on this topic with the EEOC.

Things like centralized accommodation funds can be incredibly powerful.

The cost is not large, particularly when you think about it as an agency pool.  So that really removes the barrier, frankly a perceived barrier.

We're trying to do all those things.  We think we're making progress.  2016, 15.4 percent of the new hires.  That is a great place for us to be and to build from as we go forward.

That is the entry down to the SES and we need to keep working on that to help those individuals and equally importantly to help keep that great talent inside the federal government doing our work every day.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  Wow, that's very powerful and something that often hasn't happened.  But you believe when you see people with disabilities moving into leadership roles, that is what will make the difference.

Before I ask the last couple questions, I think we have Helena Berger on hold.

Are you there?

>> Yes, hi Joyce.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  Hi Helena.

Helena is the acting CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities.

Thanks for calling in.

>> Thanks, Joyce.  I want to thank Beth.  We had an opportunity to chat two or three weeks ago.

I wanted again to welcome you to your new position and to thank you for proactively reaching out to the disability community and to leaders in disability organizations and making that connection and engagement.

Based on our conversation, I think we definitely have a strong leader at OPM that's going to continue, I think, hopefully seeing those numbers surge in the right direction.

So again, I just wanted to welcome you and thank you for your leadership and commitment.

>> BETH COBERT:  You're welcome.  As I said, it's great to have a place where the federal government is taking such a proactive leadership role.

So you know, it's my hope that all of us working together can continue to build on that.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  I must say, AAPD is definitely the heart and soul of the disability community in Washington DC, so I'm sure Helena and her group will be there to help you in any way.

>> Absolutely.  Thank you.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  All right.  Helena, thanks for calling in.

Okay, well, I know these last few questions seem to be the most difficult, especially the next one for my listeners.  And I have been on the year 12 years ago.  Actually thank you to Highmark and Bayer Corporation for sponsoring the show for a long time.

What I wanted to ask you, Beth, obviously, wow, look what you have done.  You have already accomplished so much in your life.

My question is, what do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

>> BETH COBERT:  First of all, I'm hopefully not done.  I know at OPM I have a very large agenda to move forward on, restoring confidence in the system, taking care of people who are victims of the cyber security incident, and continuing great initiatives like this one.

I don't think I'm done.  In terms of greatest accomplishment, other than my family who I think is great, I frankly spend most of my time looking forward.

I am a glass‑half‑full kind of person, and to me it's an opportunity.  What else can we do.  What can we get done.  It just makes sense to do that.  I'm a very pragmatic person.

When I think about that, it's sort of what are the things I have been able to institutionalize and make better.

If I had to pick something I'd say there's a whole series of individuals who I worked with the a some point in my life, either mentors to me, increasingly over time I was mentors to them.  I look at what they have done and to me that is the accomplishment, putting them in places where they can make great things happen.

I look at that, and that is what makes me really proud.  And I think beyond that, the ability to translate what I learned in my life in the private sector to public service is something I'm incredibly excited about.  I would definitely put that as a piece of unfinished business because I'm not done yet.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  You're not done yet.  Yes, reminds me, as I received this lifetime achievement award at the tribute dinner in Pittsburgh, and I went up front and I said, I'm not going anywhere! I'm still here and I'm still going to be doing work.

>> BETH COBERT:  (Chuckles).

>> JOYCE BENDER:  And I'm glad we have you.

You're just such a nice person, Beth.

>> BETH COBERT:  Thank you.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  You are so modest because you already have accomplished so much.

Notice I said already.

>> BETH COBERT:  Thank you.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  But you have a long way to go.  Yeah, I get that.

>> BETH COBERT:  Thank you.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  Hey, what message would you like to leave with our listeners today?

>> BETH COBERT:  First, a big thank you because I know many of the folks on this phone call, and Joyce, who work with you, are real partners to OPM and the federal government in this effort.

So one, I'd like to leave you with a big thank you.

I'd like to leave you with the encouragement to keep pushing us.  You know, that's how we all are going to get great things done.

I know you're not shy when it comes to giving us advice, and I and the rest of the team really welcome that.

So one, to thank you.

Two, keep the advice coming.

Three, I think there's a real story for all of us to be proud of.  It is a story of leadership and the story of the federal government recognizing talent and putting talent to work.

That is the story of putting people with disabilities to work.  Finding talent, putting the talent to work and letting the talent shine.

That I think we should be proud of what we accomplish together.

I think we can't be complacent because we have more work left to do.

And I think we have a great opportunity to really institutionalize some terrific practices that have enables us to make progress and that will enable us to make progress as we go forward.

So I really would say thanks, keep the comments going, let's keep working, and I really look forward to working with everybody on this really important issue.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  We look forward to working with you.  And I will say once again to everyone, just the fact, and you can't imagine how busy Beth must be.  Just the fact that she took time out of her schedule to be on this show, to message the disability community, just says so much.

And remember, if you know someone and you say I wish they would have heard the show, BenderConsult.com, within a day the show is archived on our website.  And VoiceAmerica.com.

You can download the show from iTunes and tell everyone you know about it.

Beth, thank you so much again for being with us.

And I wish you only the best in your leadership role.

>> BETH COBERT:  Thank you very much, I look forward to working with all of you as we go forward.

>> JOYCE BENDER:  All right.  Hey, everyone, I look forward to talking to you next week.  This is Joyce Bender, America's voice, with "Disability Matters" at VoiceAmerica.com.

Talk to you soon.

>> VoiceAmerica would like to thank you for tuning in.  Please join next Tuesday at 11 a.m. Pacific time for another installment of "Disability Matters" right here on the internet talk leader, VoiceAmerica.com.

>> Thanks for listening to the preceding program.  For more information about our network and to check out additional show hosts and topics of interest, please vision VoiceAmerica variety.com.

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The views and ideas expressed on the preceding program are strictly those of the host or guest and do not necessarily reflect the views or ideas held by the talk radio network, its staff and management.

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This text is being provided in a rough draft format.  Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings.

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