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With Jobs Order, Obama Gives Veterans More to Celebrate

With Jobs Order, Obama Gives Veterans More to Celebrate

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Joe Davidson | The Washington Post via YellowBrix

November 11, 2009

Presidential executive orders are lofty, historical documents, generally signed in White House ceremonies with pomp and circumstance. Seldom do we think of them beginning in a small town on the eastern edge of West Virginia.

But it was in Shepherdstown, with a population of 803 at last count, where President Obama’s latest executive order, designed to facilitate the hiring of veterans in the federal government, got its start.

Since 1944, federal law has required that vets be given certain preferences when federal agencies hire. And this isn’t the first time an administration has made noise about being nice to vets. What will come of this latest effort remains to be seen.

But the quiet signing ceremony in the Oval Office on Monday evening certainly was an important move in the right direction. By establishing an interagency council and requiring that progress be tracked and reported back to the president, the executive order created a mechanism with teeth.

“This is a very definite step forward in what veterans can take advantage of,” Clarence E. Hill, the American Legion’s national commander, said in an interview. “There has never been anything like a veterans employment office. This is a big step,” added Hill, who attended the signing.

Soon after Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry took office this spring, he listed increased employment opportunities for veterans as one of his short-term goals.

In July, a multiagency team met at the OPM training facility in Shepherdstown, West Virginia’s oldest town, with the charge to consider what had been tried in the past, what worked and what didn’t.

“That is the team that essentially put together and began the design of the program that the president has signed into executive order,” Berry said shortly after leaving the ceremony at the White House.

Obama’s order says that it is “the policy of my Administration to enhance recruitment of and promote employment opportunities for veterans within the executive branch, consistent with merit system principles and veterans’ preferences prescribed by law. The Federal Government will thereby help lead by example in promoting veterans’ employment.”

The preference already gives vets a good head start in the competition for federal jobs. On civil service tests, they get five or 10 points added to their passing scores. Then there’s the “rule of three,” which says an agency must select from the top three candidates but cannot pass over a vet in that group to hire someone without the preference.

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