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Testimony

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111th Congress (2009-2010)

STATEMENT OF CHRISTINE M. GRIFFIN

DEPUTY DIRECTOR
U.S. OFFICE OF PERSONNEL MANAGEMENT

before the

COMMITTEE ON VETERANS' AFFAIRS
SUBCOMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITIES
UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

on

THE STATUS OF VETERANS EMPLOYMENT

April 15, 2009

Good afternoon, Chairwoman Herseth Sandlin, Ranking Member Boozman, and Members of the Subcommittee. Thank you for inviting me to this important hearing on the status of veterans' employment and the role of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) within it. As a veteran of the United States Army, having served on active duty from 1974-1977, I understand the importance of making sure that our veterans are able to find and retain jobs.

Governmentwide Recruitment and Retention of Veterans

Ensuring that veterans have full access to Federal civilian jobs following their separation from military service is one of the highest priorities of Director John Berry and myself; it is also at the very core of OPM's mission: To recruit, retain and honor a world-class workforce to serve the American people. President Obama reinforced our commitment to veterans' employment when he signed Executive Order13518 last November. This order established the Veterans Employment Initiative, which will guide this Administration's efforts to reinvigorate the recruitment and retention of veterans in the Federal workforce.

The Executive Order cemented a partnership among the Departments of Defense, Labor, Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security, and OPM and directed Federal agencies to enhance employment opportunities for veterans employed in the executive branch. Our partners in this initiative employ nearly 80 percent of all veterans in the Federal workforce. As we looked more closely at the government-wide veteran employment numbers, we realized there are pockets of excellence in the recruitment and employment of veterans that can benefit other Federal agencies. By leveraging the practices of successful agencies, the Government will increase its effectiveness in recruiting, on-boarding, and providing career counseling to veterans seeking Federal employment. As part of this effort, OPM is collaborating with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) Program.

The Executive Order also established an Interagency Council on Veterans Employment (the Council), co-chaired by the Secretaries of Labor and Veterans Affairs, with the Director of the Office of Personnel Management serving as Vice-Chair. The Council members also include a number of other agencies, and the President may designate other members. The Council had its inaugural meeting in December 2009 to outline the responsibilities under the Executive Order, affirm its commitment to enhance the employment of veterans in the Federal Government, and to chart a strategic course forward.

On January 29, 2010, OPM released The Government wide Veterans' Recruitment and Employment Strategic Plan for FY 2010 - FY 2012. The Strategic Plan focuses on aggressively breaking down barriers to veterans' employment by using a number of strategies focused on the following four areas:

  • Leadership Commitment - establishes a governance structure and infrastructure dedicated solely to the employment of veterans in the Federal Government.
  • Skills Development and Employment - focuses on providing employment counseling and aligning the talents and aspirations of veterans and transitioning service members with civil service career opportunities.
  • Marketing Veterans' Employment - creates a marketing campaign, aimed at (1) highlighting for veterans and transitioning service members the benefits of continuing their careers with the Federal civil service and (2) raising awareness among hiring officials of how veterans can meet demands for needed skills in their organizations.
  • Information Gateway - creates a single-source website for disseminating accurate and consistent veterans' employment information and resources for veterans, human resources professionals, and hiring officials.

In addition, OPM established a Veterans Employment Program Office to provide Governmentwide leadership on the Veterans Employment Initiative and launched the comprehensive veterans' employment information gateway FedsHireVets. Veterans now have a formal employment advocate in the 24 Federal agencies identified in the Executive Order.

Impact of Veterans Preference

Veterans' preference recognizes the economic loss often suffered by citizens who have served, restores veterans to a favorable competitive position for Government employment, and acknowledges the larger obligation we owe to disabled veterans. The Executive branch of the Federal Government is the nation's leading employer of veterans. Over half a million veterans are employed today in agencies across the country and around the world. Approximately 25 percent of, or one of every four, current Federal employees is a veteran. In comparison to the private sector, the Federal Government hires three times the percentage of veterans, seven times the percentage of disabled veterans, and ten times the percentage of severely injured veterans. Each year we continue to see an increase in the number of veterans employed by the Federal Government. In FY 2007 there were 462,744 veterans out of 1,811,459 total employees. Again in FY 2008, the number of veterans rose to 481,223 out of 1,886,720 total employees, and our most recent numbers show that the number of veterans rose to 512,671 out of 1,986,005 total employees in FY 2009.

Not only is hiring veterans the right thing to do, it also makes good business sense. The Government invests significant resources in the training and development of military service personnel. Acting aggressively to retain transitioning military service personnel within the Federal Government helps maximize our return on this investment. As noted in the Executive Order, veterans possess a wide variety of skills and experiences, as well as a dedication to public service, that can be of enormous benefit to the Government as an employer. The Government has a number of skills gaps these individuals can fill immediately, thereby reducing overall training costs and accelerating productivity.

Use of Hiring Authorities

In FY 2009, the Veterans Employment Opportunities Act (VEOA) accounted for the largest number of veterans hired in the Federal Government (20,214), followed by the Veterans Recruitment Act (6,659), and the 30 percent or more disabled veterans (1,729) hired through various authorities. Under the Executive Order, OPM is aggressively pursuing a program aimed at educating hiring managers on the strategic use of the various hiring authorities that can be used for veterans. OPM is also working with VA to educate agencies on the strategic hiring of veterans who have participated in a VA Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program under 38 U.S.C. Chapter 31.

Federal Career Intern Program

The Federal Career Intern Program (FCIP) was established by Executive Oder in 2000 to help agencies recruit exceptional individuals and to prepare them for careers in analyzing and implementing public programs. FCIP is a training and development program, generally of two years' duration, that agencies utilize to groom subject matter experts in a variety of jobs. Agencies are required to develop two-year formal training and job assignment programs for each career intern. Upon successful completion of the two-year internship, agencies have the option of bringing the interns into their permanent workforce.

Since the program's inception in 2000, agencies have steadily increased their hiring through the FCIP. This trend may be partly attributable to agency succession planning efforts to address the retirement wave that was anticipated at that time.

It is important to note that veterans' preference applies to the selection of career interns under the FCIP. Veterans' preference has long been a cornerstone of the civil service. Accordingly, when OPM issued guidance implementing the FCIP, agencies were made aware of the applicability of this important entitlement when hiring under this program. Since this program was created, OPM has not been aware of any systemic abuses or violations with respect to the application of veterans' preference to the FCIP. Practices concerning how an agency pursues a request to "pass over" a preference eligible with a compensable, service-connected disability of 30 percent or more were recently modified, through OPM guidance, to ensure full compliance with controlling case law.

The table below shows the number of FCIP hires in each of the last nine fiscal years; including how many of these were preference eligibles.

Fiscal Year
 010203040506070809
Total FCIP Hires 411 2871 5674 6676 10297 11929 16706 24431 26709
# Pref eligibles 17 167 379 507 757 1266 2336 3114 2902
% Pref eligibles 4.1 5.8 6.6 7.5 7.3 10.6 13.9 12.7 10.8

Our data shows that the percentage of FCIP hires that were preference eligibles has increased significantly since 2001, the first full year for which we have data. However, it is still well below the percentage of the overall Federal workforce represented by veterans. OPM is currently conducting a comprehensive review of the FCIP as part of an overall hiring reform initiative.

Conclusion

Madam Chairwoman, in addition to preserving and protecting veterans' preference, OPM is aggressively dismantling any barriers that limit the entry or success of veterans or transitioning service members in civil service. We are proud of our efforts to fulfill the President's vision to increase the number of veterans employed by the Federal Government.

I would be happy to answer any questions you or other Subcommittee members may have.

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