By Debbie Gregory.
Congress has stepped into a sensitive issue that’s been quietly roiling the hiring system for federal jobs: the Obama administration’s push to give preference to veterans.
While former service members would still go to the head of the hiring line, a little-noticed provision of the new defense bill recently passed by the Senate would eliminate the preference veterans get once they are in the government and apply for another federal job.
Top defense officials pressed Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) for the change in order to ensure that qualified non-veterans are considered equally with veterans for specialized, hard-to-fill positions.
The provision would affect thousands of veterans, many of whom get a foot in the door with an entry-level position and then seek jobs at other agencies.
The provision has been fiercely opposed by leading service organizations, which had no idea until the legislation was on the floor that the Senate was moving to chip away at the government’s most visible effort to reward military service.
“Is Congress now starting to dial back the goodwill the country’s shown toward veterans’ employment?” asked Lauren Augustine, senior legislative associate for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, an advocacy group. “Are we now going to set a bad example to the private sector by limiting veterans preference in government?”
In 2009, Obama boosted the extra hiring credits given to veterans to give them a greater edge in getting federal jobs.
But the down-side to the policy has been that qualified non-veterans are getting shut out of federal jobs in deference to those who served, but may not be as qualified.
In 2014, almost half of those hired in full-time, permanent federal jobs were veterans. The figures for 2015 have not yet been released.
A spokesman for the House Armed Services Committee said the committee has not taken a position on the issue.
McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said last week that he does not think the Senate provision hurts veterans’ preference but instead “balances the goals of rewarding those who are eligible for a federal hiring advantage with the needs of the federal government and notably the Department of Defense to attract and hire the best talent for a variety of important national security jobs.”