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A Campaign to Push the Hiring of Vets

A Campaign to Push the Hiring of Vets

OPM Director John Berry

Joe Davidson | The Washington Post via YellowBrix

November 13, 2009

It’s ironic, and shameful, that President Obama’s point man on his employment initiative for veterans is barred by law from being one.

John Berry directs the Office of Personnel Management and is openly gay. No one is more eager about increasing employment opportunities for those who have served in the military, yet his government, but not this administration, says it does not want his kind in uniform.

That didn’t stop Berry from enthusiastically leading the charge Thursday that is outlined in Obama’s executive order. It says administration policy is to “enhance recruitment of and promote employment opportunities for veterans within the executive branch.”

During a news conference in a crowded second-floor meeting room at the Labor Department, Berry said the order would go beyond the current veterans preference, which includes points added to their civil service test scores, and would allow government agencies to target job candidates who are vets. Agencies “will marry them with federal jobs” and provide them mentorships, he said.

The order creates a multi-agency Council on Veterans Employment that is co-chaired by the secretaries of Labor and Veterans Affairs. But it’s clear the real power behind the program will be the OPM director, whom the order says will be vice chair.

One way to tell that was that neither co-chair, Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis nor Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki, attended the news conference to kick off the initiative. But more than that, as the order directed, Berry has appointed an executive director for the council and is responsible for developing a government-wide “Veterans Recruitment and Employment Strategic Plan.”

Improving the employment of veterans was one of three short-term goals Berry established shortly after taking office in April. The groundwork for the executive order was developed at OPM’s training facility in Shepherdstown, W.Va. Reforming the government’s recruiting and hiring practices, and improving work life and workplace conditions were the other two areas in which he said he hoped “to get some points on the board” within a year.

A presidential executive order promoting one of your projects certainly counts as getting points on the board. Berry’s father and uncle, veterans he cited during the news conference, surely would be proud, even though the nation whose uniforms they wore will not let him follow in their service.

About the same time Berry was speaking at the news conference, his agency released its annual survey on the “Employment of Veterans in the Executive Branch.”

“The report shows that government continues to be a leader in employing veterans, but there is much room for improvement, especially for non-defense/national security agencies,” says Berry’s introduction.

From fiscal year 2004 through 2008, according to the report, the percentage of vets in the federal workforce basically remained flat, inching up from 25.1 percent to 25.5 percent, though the number grew to 481,223. The growth of disabled vets as a portion of all federal workers has been a bit more significant. Disabled veterans grew from 4.8 percent of the federal workforce to 6 percent. Those with a disability rating of 30 percent or greater were 2.3 percent of the workforce in 2004 and 3.4 percent in 2008.

The disabled vets are among the workers the new program targets.

“As part of this initiative, we will be instituting innovative programs that improve the hiring prospect of Native Americans, women and veterans who have been wounded, ill or injured,” said Ray Jefferson, assistant Labor secretary for the Veterans’ Employment and Training Service, and a former member of the Army Rangers and Special Forces.

These are “groups of veterans that are more difficult to reach,” and who “will require special emphasis in order to elevate the hiring potential of all veterans into the federal government,” he said at the news conference.

Programs at the Defense Department, where 45 percent of the civilian workers are vets, show what can be done when a serious effort is institutionalized. Two Web sites, http://www.dodvets.com and http://www.go-defense.com, provide information for vets who want to continue working for the Pentagon but without the uniform.

Gail H. McGinn, who prefers to be described as “performing the duties” of the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness rather than “acting undersecretary,” also told reporters about a toll-free phone number and online chats with career advisers, a Transition Assistance Program, job fairs, workshops and other services to help those leaving the military for civilian life.

The effort to hire more vets has a lot of steam but no firm definition of success. “We’ve set no quota,” Berry said.

But the requirement of a report to the president on the effect of the program is enough to make sure the agencies get on the stick, Berry predicted.

“When my numbers are going to the president,” he said, “trust me, they will get attention.”


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