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What do you think about the federal government’s veterans’ hiring preference?


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Uncle Sam’s program for giving veterans extra points in the hiring process is complex, confusing and difficult to understand, according to a Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) report released Tuesday.

To give you an idea of what federal hiring managers face, consider this opening paragraph from the report:

“The laws and regulations regarding the preferences in hiring that can or must be given to veterans and certain family members are extremely complex. The preferences vary by the specific circumstances of the veterans and the hiring authorities being used. Some veterans can be non-competitively appointed, while other veterans may not be eligible for that same hiring authority, and the availability of an authority may depend on the grade of the position being filled. The right of a veteran to have his or her application considered for a position may depend on whether an agency is considering applicants who are internal to Government but outside the agency’s own workforce. The degree of preference owed can vary by agency or position being filled. Under certain circumstances, the mother of a veteran may be eligible for preference, whereas the father would not be eligible. There are many other examples of how veterans may be treated differently under the law, but to put the message more simply: the laws relating to veterans’ preference invite misunderstandings, confusion, perceptions of wrongdoing, and possibly actual wrongdoing—whether intentional or inadvertent.”

Whew.

While the veterans’ hiring preference is complex, it is generally popular. But it is not beyond controversy.

A MSPB survey said 6.5 percent of respondents reported inappropriate favoritism towards veterans and 4.5 percent reported a denial of veterans’ preference rights.

Neither figure is large, but each can have ramifications. In a letter introducing the report, Susan Tsui Grundmann, the MSPB chairwoman, said, “The survey data showed that employees are less likely to be engaged and more likely to want to leave their agencies if they report having observed either of these two types of conduct.”

Also troubling: perceptions of problems with veterans’ preference are greater in the government’s largest agency, the Defense Department. It hires many of veterans.

“Perceptions of inappropriate favoritism towards veterans are particularly an issue in the Department of Defense (DoD), where 8 percent of DoD employees responding to the survey reported having seen this behavior,” MSPB said.

Tell us what you think about veterans’ preference. Does the preference crowd out other qualified applicants? Is it denied when it should be applied? What changes, if any, do you recommend?

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about federal government and workplace issues that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. Davidson previously was an assistant city editor at The Washington Post and a Washington and foreign correspondent with The Wall Street Journal, where he covered federal agencies and political campaigns.

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