The Washington Post

Easier path to federal employment for military spouses?

(Cliff Owen/AP) (Cliff Owen/AP)

Military spouses often have trouble finding jobs when their husbands or wives are stationed on remote bases, and when they do, they’re soon uprooted again to start the search anew.

The Obama administration has addressed this issue with a hiring preference for federal jobs that’s similar to that accorded to veterans. Now comes a new proposal from the Office of Personnel Management to ease the path of military spouses toward permanent, or career tenured federal jobs, given the unavoidable breaks in their employment.

As it stands now, federal regulations require an employee to work three years in “substantially continuous” service to qualify for tenure, which, among other benefits, provides job security. OPM proposed a change in the Federal Register this week that would remove that requirement if there is a break in service of more than 30 days. Employees would only need a total of three years’ service to become tenured.

The armed services prodded OPM to publish the proposed change, but it would apply to all federal employees. And that’s raised concerns among the largest union representing public employees that some employees might use the new benefit as a kind of loophole to encourage them to move back and forth between federal service and private, government contracting work.

“Relaxing the continuous service requirement for military spouses who are forced to move frequently because of military deployments is a sensible proposal,” J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said in a statement. “But accommodating and facilitating the revolving door between federal employment and contractors raises serious conflict of interest problems, and AFGE would caution against applying the new rule to those whose commitment to federal service is only to ‘case the joint’ for contracting opportunities.”

But for military families, the change would be a boon, easing the difficult transitions they face every few years.

“It can take military spouses a long time to get into the federal system,” said Kathleen Moakler, government relations director for the National Military Family Association.

“They finally get in, they get that job, and then it’s, ‘Oh my goodness there’s only a year left on their spouse’s assignment.’ All of a sudden it’s time to move again.”

Lisa Rein covers the federal workforce and issues that concern the management of government.

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