More veterans finding a place in the government

Joe Davidson
Columnist November 8, 2011

Just in time for Veterans Day, the administration is trumpeting its success in hiring those who served in uniform. It’s a bit of good news to distract us from the Herman Cain circus.

“The government is doing better that it ever has done” in hiring veterans, Joseph Kennedy, the Office of Personnel Management’s deputy associate director for employee services, said Tuesday.

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about the federal workplace that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. View Archive

He was addressing a meeting of the Chief Human Capital Officers Council, the government’s top personnel managers. Documents distributed at the meeting said that “the percentage of veterans in the federal government is at an all time high” and that “disabled veterans are finding employment opportunities within the federal government like never before.”

Kennedy had statistics to back him up.

Uncle Sam has increased its hiring of vets in almost every quarter since at least 2006, according to OPM data. In the first quarter of 2011, 34 percent of new federal hires were vets. That dipped to 21.3 percent in the third quarter, but hiring falls each year during that period. OPM did not explain the annual dip.

The hiring of disabled veterans shows a similar pattern.

Eleven percent of new federal hires in the first quarter of 2011 were disabled vets. That fell to 6.1 percent in the third quarter, yet that was the best third quarter since at least 2006.

The release of the data came just one day after President Obama promoted programs to hire veterans in the private sector.

“Over the past decade, nearly 3 million servicemembers have transitioned back to civilian life, joining the millions who have served through the decades,” he said from the White House Rose Garden. “And as we end the war in Iraq and we wind down the war in Afghanistan, over a million more will join them over the next five years. Just think about the skills these veterans have acquired, often at a very young age. Think about the leadership that they’ve learned, the cutting-edge technologies that they’ve mastered, their ability to adapt to changing and unpredictable circumstances you just can’t get from a classroom. Think about how many have led others to life-and-death missions by the time they’re 25 or 26 years old.”

He used his speech to push for tax credits for businesses that hire unemployed veterans and a larger tax break for those that hire jobless vets with a service-related disability. The tax credits don’t apply to federal agencies, which were the focal point of his Veterans Employment Initiative, outlined in an executive order issued two years ago.

“I’ve already directed the federal government to lead by example and to hire more veterans,” Obama said. “And it has hired more than 120,000 so far.”

Veterans appreciate that.

“I think the federal government has done a good job at hiring veterans, and I think they are looking to do more,” said David Autry, deputy national communications director for the Disabled American Veterans.

Joseph Sharpe, economics director for the American Legion, said he “would give the Obama administration an A for effort, but of course we would like to see the various federal agencies do more and be more proactive” by doing such things as having more recruitment fairs for veterans.

While Autry praised the administration’s efforts, he noted that some agencies don’t perform as well as others. That’s confirmed by OPM data, which show that 8 percent of federal agencies are not on track to meet fiscal 2011 hiring goals for veterans and 13 percent may not meet their goals for hiring disabled vets.

The information released at Tuesday’s meeting did not identify the lagging agencies, but an annual OPM report indicates the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Agency for International Development were at the bottom of the heap, with vets making up about 6 percent of their employees. Among executive branch agencies, the average is over 26 percent.

“Veterans hiring is a priority for USAID. We’ve partnered with a number of VSOs (veterans service organizations) to encourage veterans to apply for jobs at USAID and we expect to see these numbers go up in the next year,” USAID said in a statement. It added that many vets and USAID staffers have worked side-by-side in nations from Afghanistan to Haiti.

Meanwhile, the American Postal Workers Union and the National Postal Mail Handlers Union have launched a television spot that uses veterans employed by the Postal Service to fight legislation the unions oppose. “Congress is debating a bill that would force the Postal Service to fire tens of thousands of vets, close post offices, shut mail processing plants and disrupt mail delivery,” the script says.

The APWU defends the ad as “completely accurate,” although it implies that the legislation targets vets. The bill does not, and it’s disingenuous to use vets like that.

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