Veterans advocates hail government's hiring initiative

"Our mission is simple: hire more veterans," says Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry.
"Our mission is simple: hire more veterans," says Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry. (Jonathan Newton/the Washington Post)
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Friday, September 17, 2010

The Obama administration is trumpeting the initial success of the president's Veterans Employment Initiative. It was launched with an executive order in November that was designed to increase the federal government's employment of veterans.

During the first six months of fiscal 2010, 30.2 percent of Uncle Sam's hires were vets, compared with 26.8 percent last year. That amounts to an increase of 2,600 jobs, according to administration figures released Thursday.

"Our mission is simple: Hire more veterans," said Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry. "The strong sense of patriotism and public service held by members of our armed forces does not leave them when they exit from active duty. It benefits our government to utilize their skills and dedication to service."

Also on Thursday, the President's Interagency Council on Veterans Employment adopted a formula to help agencies set hiring goals for vets, including those who are disabled. "Those agencies with lower hiring percentages will have more aggressive goals, but will soon graduate to other tiers based on their performance," an OPM statement said.

Joe Sharpe, economic division director of the American Legion, praised Berry and other federal officials for making the hiring of veterans a priority.

"These are very good numbers," Sharpe said.

Despite the increased hiring, "the jobless rate among veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan is unacceptably high," said Deputy Veterans Affairs Secretary Scott Gould.

Tenure comparison

Government workers in general, and federal workers in particular, tend to have longer tenure with their employers than do those in the private sector, according to new Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

The median number of years that wage and salary workers have been with their current employer -- the point at which half the workers had more tenure and half had less -- is now four years for private-sector employees, up from 3.6 years in 2008. The agency attributed that increase in part to "relatively large job losses among less-senior workers in the most recent recession."

The comparable figure for federal employees is 7.9 years, while it's 6.4 years and 7.5 years, respectively, for state and local government employees.

The longer tenure among workers in the public sector is explained, in part, by the age profile of government workers. Seventy-four percent of government workers were 35 and older, compared with 62 percent of private wage and salary workers, the BLS said in its announcement.

Median tenure for federal employees dropped from 9.9 years in 2008, a decline BLS spokesman Steve Hipple said could reflect the government's recent relatively high rate of retirements and the hiring of replacements. The percentage of federal workers with 25 or more years of experience fell from 18.4 percent to 13.9 percent in that time.

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