Declaring that the government has an obligation to those who have served and sacrificed in defense of our nation, President Obama in 2009 issued an executive order calling for federal agencies to step up efforts to recruit and hire qualified veterans.

Joseph Kennedy, a principal deputy associate director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and his team took the lead in implementing the presidential order, helping grow the number of veterans employed by the federal government from 512,000 (25.8 percent) in fiscal 2009 to 567,000 (27.3 percent) in fiscal 2011.

In 2011, 28.3 percent of all newly hired employees were veterans. This represented the highest percentage of veterans hired in a given year in more than two decades. The hiring of disabled veterans also rose from 7 percent in 2009 to 9 percent in 2011.

Justin Johnson, an OPM deputy chief of staff, said Kennedy helped establish processes for federal agencies to match the skills of veterans with government vacancies.

“It’s not just that the numbers of veterans hired are up, but it has been done with a strategy that guides veterans toward jobs for which they are individually well-suited,” said Johnson.

(Sam Kittner)

Angela Bailey, an OPM associate director for employee services, said Kennedy and his colleagues, Ray Decker and Hakeem Basheerud-Deen, created a comprehensive strategic hiring plan that provided critical assistance to agencies and support services for veterans.

“They spent a lot of time making sure that agencies understood that veterans were already highly-trained and more than just fighters,” said Bailey.

Working with their agency partners, Kennedy and his team oversaw the establishment of Veteran Employment Program Offices at 24 departments and agencies. These offices play a major role in recruiting veterans and matching their career aspirations to the needs of the agencies. Members of the OPM team closely monitor the work of these offices and provide assistance and advice.

Chuck Grimes, OPM’s chief operating officer, said these employment offices have made a big difference.

“Joseph and his team took the veterans preference that already existed in law and established a mechanism to get results around the important issue of veterans hiring,” said Grimes. “They made sure that both the veterans and the hiring organizations were getting their needs met.”

Kennedy also led the effort to create the Feds Hire Vets website to provide a single-point for employment information for veterans, their families, human resources staff and hiring managers; launched a government-wide marketing campaign on the value of hiring veterans; conducted veterans employment symposiums for HR professionals and hiring managers; and created web-based training modules on veterans appointing authorities and veterans preference.

The overall strategy has been pro-active and involved innovative programs.

For example, a Vets to Feds Career Development Program was created that has facilitated the hiring and placement of student veterans in agencies where they are trained for entry-level contracting positions, and get full salaries and benefits at the same time.

The OPM group is also working on a pilot program with the Departments of Labor and Veterans Affairs to help formerly homeless veterans match their skills and interests to federal job opportunities. Additionally, they began a new initiative to match unemployed veterans in the medical and nursing fields with jobs at the Departments of Health and Human Services, Veterans Affairs, and the Food and Drug Administration.

The team also has made great strides inside OPM, where 39.6 percent (262) of the individuals hired in fiscal 2011 were veterans. OPM opened a Veterans Employment Program Office at its headquarters outfitted with assistive technology and staffed to help veterans, including those with disabilities, who are seeking federal employment at OPM or elsewhere in the government.

Kennedy said veterans have given a great deal to the nation through their service and sacrifice, and have a lot to offer government agencies based on their training and technical and leadership skills. In carrying out the presidential executive order, Kennedy said his goal has been to create a “value proposition” that involves assisting those who have served our country and providing government agencies with qualified employees.

“We are putting highly-skilled and deserving veterans back to work, which makes a difference in their lives and the lives of their families, while helping the United States government meet its important challenges,” said Kennedy. “That’s a win-win situation. It is what gets me up and going every day.”

This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and washingtonpost.com. Go to http://washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/fedpage/players/ to read about other federal workers who are making a difference.