A probe by the Office of Personnel Management has found that most military veterans receive "appropriate consideration" in hiring for civil service jobs where applicants compete for employment.
Through a series of laws, veterans -- and especially disabled veterans -- are entitled to preference when civil service jobs are being filled. As a general practice, veterans who meet minimum qualifications for a job have five or 10 points added to their numerical score or rating when competing for civil service positions.
OPM, in a "Veterans' Employment Audit Report" scheduled for release this week, found only four cases at three agencies where veterans' preference had not been properly followed during the hiring process. OPM and the agencies are taking or have taken steps to correct the violations, the report said. For its report, OPM examined the hiring practices of 19 federal agencies.
Jim Magill, employment policy director at the Veterans of Foreign Wars, called the finding of only four violations "somewhat amazing. I would think there would have been more, based on the complaints that we receive at the VFW."
Peter Gaytan, principal deputy director for veterans affairs and rehabilitation at the American Legion, said he had not looked at the audit, which OPM undertook in response to concerns raised by veterans groups. "Problems do exist," Gaytan said. The Legion is pleased by the government's efforts to enforce the preference, he said, citing the Department of Homeland Security as an example of an agency that has partnered with the Legion on employment issues.
In a statement, OPM Director Kay Coles James thanked veterans groups for their help and reaffirmed the Bush administration's commitment to "defending veterans' preference."
James added, "After all, veterans' preference is not just the right thing to do, it is the law of the land, and we will continue to root out problems where they exist and ensure that veterans are afforded the priority in federal hiring they deserve."
The OPM audit found violations at the Agriculture Department headquarters, an Army Materiel Command center in Germany and at a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention office in Morgantown, W.Va. In the Army case, the agency did not admit any improper activity but agreed to pay $132,706 to settle a complaint brought by a veteran, the OPM report said.
Veterans preference has been hailed by members of Congress and other politicians through the years as a way that the nation can show its appreciation for Americans who serve in the armed forces. Vigilance in enforcing the preference also has become a way for the major political parties to vie for the support of veterans.
The preference, however, has been faulted by some federal managers as hampering their ability to hire the best-qualified applicant or as skewing federal hiring because the system favors veterans.
An OPM official said the audit looked into areas of federal hiring that had not been examined in past reviews, such as how agencies exempted from regular civil service rules apply veterans' preference.
Over the past two years, the government has hired more than 8,000 lawyers and 95,000 student trainees without a clear understanding of whether the preference applies to such jobs, the OPM report indicated. Many officials in agencies operating outside traditional civil service law do not think the preference applies to such jobs -- a position that is contrary to OPM guidelines, the report said.
The audit also found that the hiring of disabled veterans "is very uneven" across the government and said "most managers were unaware of specific initiatives by their agency to hire disabled veterans."
Still, the report noted that 41 percent of veterans enter federal employment through special hiring programs created for them, such as the Veterans Recruitment Appointment and the Veterans Employment Opportunities Act.
The government employs veterans at a rate more than two times their representation in the private-sector workforce -- a "commendable achievement," the report said.
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