The federal government hired more than 72,000 veterans in fiscal 2010, an increase of about 2,000 from the year before, according to the Office of Personnel Management.
But veterans’ representatives are not happy.
“Through the President’s Veterans Employment Initiative, OPM and our agency partners are helping tens of thousands of veterans and their families continue their legacy of service,” OPM Director John Berry said in a statement Wednesday as he released an annual report on the Employment of Veterans in the Federal Executive Branch.
“These are some of the best, brightest and hardest-working Americans in the federal government. While we’ve accomplished a lot in the first year, too many veterans are still unemployed and we’re going to keep pushing to do even better going forward.”
They should push harder, because what they’ve accomplished isn’t enough, according to the American Legion, the largest veterans service organization.
“We’re just not satisfied with that,” said Joseph Sharpe, director of the organization’s economic division. He acknowledged work by Berry and the administration to make hiring vets a central concern, but he added: “With that effort, it should be a lot higher than 2,000 more.”
Although the percentage of veterans in executive branch agencies was up slightly, to 26.3 percent in 2010, a number of agencies fell well below that mark. The percentage of veterans in 10 of 28 agencies was 10.1 or less. At the bottom were the U.S. Agency for International Development, at 5.6 percent; the National Science Foundation, at 5.7 percent; and the Department of Health and Human Services, at 6.2 percent.
As might be expected, the Defense Department was at the top among Cabinet-level agencies, with 41.9 percent. The Department of the Air Force, with veterans making up 50.8 percent of the workforce, beat everyone.
This is the first report since President Obama signed a November 2009 executive order designed to boost the federal employment of veterans. The order established the interagency Council on Veterans Employment to coordinate veterans’ employment programs across government and designated program offices in various agencies to enhance job opportunities for veterans.
“We’re proud to report that veterans hiring went up in FY 2010; over 25 percent of our civilian hires were veterans, and over eight percent were disabled veterans,” Berry wrote in the report. “The actual numbers of veterans and disabled veterans hired increased despite a decrease in overall government hiring.”
Sharpe said that hiring could increase with more intensive transition programs for military personnel as they prepare for civilian life, including training on how to write resumes for federal employment. Agencies that are slackers need to “step it up,” he said.
In a speech prepared for delivery at a Senior Executives Association conference Thursday, Berry said, “Vet to me means ‘Valued, Experienced, Trained.’ We spend a lot of time and money training them, and it only makes sense to try and keep their skills in the Federal family.”
That family needs greater diversity.
Berry made that point in two speeches this week, one to the senior executives and another Tuesday to the Society of American Indian Government Employees, meeting in Tulsa.
In prepared remarks to the executives, he said diversity and inclusion are next up on the OPM’s agenda.
“We need to do better on that government-wide, and we need your help,” he said. “The Federal Equal Opportunity Recruitment Program report we just released shows that we’re making some progress, but we’ve still got a lot of work to do.”
Numbers for Native Americans, however, are better than might be expected, given their percentage in the general workforce. According to the equal opportunity report, they make up 0.6 percent of the civilian workforce but 1.8 percent of the federal workforce and 0.9 percent of senior-level employees.
Berry asked the Indian group “to work closely with OPM on expanding the pipeline for American Indians and Alaskan Natives” into the Senior Executive Service.
The OPM director used his time with the senior executives to give a pep talk to federal employees, who have been targeted by conservative critics seeking to cut federal compensation more than the two-year pay freeze does.
Berry said, “Decades of using public employees as a punching bag have come to a head. . . . The slings and arrows are misguided, wrong-headed and downright offensive. They hinder the very goals they purport to advance.
“But we can rise above them. We can look past them. We can focus on our mission.”