The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Record numbers of veterans are getting jobs in the government — but a lot of them quit

David Reinhard, right, who works for the office of broadcast at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development sits next to Matt Frazer inside the broadcast studio at HUD in Southwest Washington. Reinhard is a former Marine who now works for HUD (Astrid Riecken For The Washington Post)

The share of federal jobs going to veterans is at its highest level in five years, new data shows, with former service members comprising almost half of full-time hires in the last fiscal year.

One in three people in government is now a veteran, proof that the White House’s six-year push to give those who served in the military a leg up in the long hiring queue for federal jobs is working.

[Obama administration push to hire veterans into federal jobs spurs resentment, tension]

The Small Business Administration had the most trouble keeping veterans in fiscal 2014, with just 62 percent staying two years or more, compared to 88 percent of non-veterans. Former service members left the Commerce Department at similar rates, with 68 percent staying two years or more compared to 82 percent for non-veterans.

[Federal agency seeks to “untie the knots" in the federal hiring process]

Even the Department of Veterans Affairs, traditionally a draw for former troops, lost a little more than a quarter of its veterans within two years, compared to 20 percent of its non-veterans.

The only agencies that kept more veterans than non-veterans on board were the Defense and State Departments, the report released last month shows.

The growing presence in government of men and women with military backgrounds is the most visible federal effort to reward military service since the draft ended in the 1970s. President Obama pushed agencies to increase hiring of veterans starting in 2009, in response to the bleak employment prospects many service members faced after coming home from Afghanistan and Iraq.

[New online tool helps veterans connect with employers]

The initiative has fueled tensions in federal offices, though, as longtime civil servants and former troops on the other side of the cubicle question each other’s competence and qualifications.

Last year, 47.4 percent of new hires to full-time jobs were veterans, an increase of 1.3 percent over fiscal 2013.

[Millenials exit the workforce as federal jobs lose their allure]

This is the first time the administration has measured how well agencies are keeping veterans, and senior leaders will be rated at the end of this fiscal year on how well they closed the gap between veterans and non-veterans who leave.

“Federal agencies hire them, but where they’re placed and into what job is not always the best fit,” said Joseph Sharpe, director of veterans employment and education for the American Legion. “These retention rates are huge issues for us.”

He noted that many veterans drop out of college and quit jobs in the private sector too. At a Legion conference on veterans employment in Baltimore this weekend, hiring managers from the Energy, Transportation, Labor, Defense, Treasury and Personnel departments are scheduled to address the issue, Sharpe said.

Hakeem Basheerud-Deen, OPM’s director of veterans services, said in an e-mail that “New hire retention rates vary between agencies. Each agency has its own culture and mission, so it’s difficult to explain the differences in their new hire retention rates.”

The employment data offers a detailed profile of former troops who went to work for the government.

Men made up 81 percent of the veterans hired, but just 45 percent of non-veterans.  Forty percent of the veterans had college degrees or higher education, compared to 54.7 percent of non-veterans. Just 10 percent of the veterans were hired to agencies in the Washington region, while 17.5 percent of non-veterans ended up in the capital city.

Pay and the types of jobs also differed. Almost twice as many veterans as non-veterans were hired into blue-collar jobs. Veterans hold the edge on administrative jobs, while non-veterans were hired into more professional posts.