OPM finalizes hiring preferences for military spouses

The Office of Personnel Management has finalized a rule allowing federal agencies to hire the spouses of some military service members without requiring them to compete for jobs.

"The intended effect of this rule is to facilitate the entry of military spouses into the federal civil service as part of an effort to recruit and retain skilled and experienced members of the armed forces and to recognize and honor the service of members injured, disabled, or killed in connection with their service," OPM director John Berry wrote in notes on the regulation, published in the Federal Register on Wednesday.

The rule allows agencies to appoint the husbands or wives of members of the armed forces to jobs without comparing them to other candidates under three conditions: if a service member is transferred to a new location permanently, becomes completely disabled during active duty (though the injuries do not have to result from combat), or dies during an active-duty assignment. If the spouse is killed during service, the widow or widower must remain unmarried before receiving an appointment.


President Bush proposed the idea of a special hiring authority for military spouses in his 2008 State of the Union address. He issued an executive order creating the authority last September, and OPM began work on the regulation in December.

Shortly after he was sworn in, President Obama ordered a review of all Bush-era regulations that had not yet been implemented. OPM has decided not to move forward with certain regulations, like one that would have eliminated a requirement that federal employees serve a year in certain pay grades before they became eligible for promotions. But Berry has said one of his priorities is to guarantee and strengthen protections for veterans in the hiring process.

Defense Department spokesman Lt. Col. Les Melnyk said a large number of military spouses could be eligible for appointments under the hiring authority. About half of all service members are married, he said, and about a third of active-duty members are transferred every year. (Some, he noted, are posted to locations, such as South Korea, where their families typically do not move with them.)

"The majority of [military spouses] do want to have a meaningful job," Melnyk said. "This is another way to help our spouses achieve that goal," and as a result, to improve service members' satisfaction with their military experience.

Randy Erwin, legislative director for the National Federation of Federal Employees, said the union did not have a position on the rule. But Max Stier, president of the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, praised the regulation.

"When you think of the family stresses that military service creates, the idea that we might be able to use civilian employment to make service easier seems to me to be a smart one," he said. "I think we also have to recognize that we have to make sure it's not sufficient to create these authorities, we have to make sure agencies really understand that they are there and are encouraged to use them."

Michael Mahoney, head of OPM's staffing group, said agencies would receive training and guidance on implementing the new hiring authority, and expected they would be ready to begin using it by the time the regulation becomes effective.

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