By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Federal agencies will soon have the option of hiring certain military spouses without having them compete for federal jobs, under new guidelines the Obama administration issued Wednesday.
The rules apply to the spouses of military service members relocating for a new assignment, some physically disabled spouses, and those whose husband or wife was killed in the line of duty. The widow or widower must remain unmarried before getting a job.
Under the guidelines issued on Wednesday by the Office of Personnel Management, eligible spouses will be able to apply for a federal job and ask that recruiters allow them to bypass the traditional hiring process.
"This family-friendly policy provides employment opportunities from individuals and a measure of economic stability to military families who must deal with a multitude of issues arising from one spouse serving their country," OPM Director John Berry said in a statement.
It is unclear how many federal agencies will use the new optional hiring authority when it takes effect next month. But hundreds of thousands of spouses could reap its benefits, since roughly half of the 400,000 and 500,000 active-duty service members restationed each year are married, according to the Pentagon. Active-duty troops relocate every three years on average.
"There is a desire out there, and we know that if we can meet the spouses' desires and keep them happy, then we'll keep them in the service," said Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Les Melnyk. Not every spouse wants or needs a job, he said, but noted that military surveys suggest that 70 percent want to work.
"This will be a huge boon to military families," said Meredith Leyva, the founder and editor of CinCHouse.com, a popular Web site for military families. Approximately 50 percent of military spouses earn as much or more income than their husband or wife, she said, meaning the new hiring authority will ensure financial security for many families.
"No service member expects to enter the service and get rich, so spouses need to be able to fill the gap with quality work," she said.
President George W. Bush issued an executive order establishing the guidelines in September, but the Obama administration delayed them as part of a review of all Bush-era regulations not implemented before the transition.
Earlier this week the White House decided to cancel another Bush-era plan that would have ended the use of the "time-in-grade rule," which requires federal employees in General Schedule grades 5 and above to work for one year in their current grade before consideration for promotion. The Obama administration will reconsider the rule later this year as part of a broader review of related personnel issues.