Veterans must be given preference in securing federal jobs, according to long-standing laws, but hiring hasn’t always worked out in their favor. A federal audit found that on numerous occasions, agencies placed Obama administration political appointees into career government jobs with civil service protections—bypassing veterans.
Much of the federal bureaucracy has turned against men and women who served the country in the military, said Darin Selnick, a retired Air Force captain and former official at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“There is a clear bias against veterans. They think veterans should start at the bottom like everyone else,” Selnick told The Daily Signal in a phone interview.
“The government culture wants everyone to start from the bottom in government. But it’s not as if veterans never worked for the government. They worked for the Department of Defense.”
“There is a clear bias against veterans,” @ConcernedVets’ Darin Selnick says.
Selnick, the senior veterans affairs adviser for the advocacy group Concerned Veterans for America, was also the special assistant to the secretary of Veterans Affairs and the director for the Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives during the George W. Bush administration, said the preference is most helpful for lower-level jobs.
“The country realizes it has a debt,” Selnick said. “Without the military, we would be in terrible shape. They put their lives on the line and are willing to die.”
Under federal law, veterans who are disabled or served active duty get preference over other applicants on the condition they are qualified for the job. If a veteran scores 70 percent or higher on the civil service exam, the applicant will have an extra five to 10 points added to their rankings for the job.
Some form of veterans’ preference for federal jobs has been in place since the Civil War, according to the Office of Personnel Management. This policy was established to help disabled veterans especially. Congress updated the law with the Veterans’ Preference Act of 1944 in the midst of World War II.
President Franklin Roosevelt, in supporting the law, stated:
I believe that the federal government, functioning in its capacity as an employer, should take the lead in assuring those who are in the armed forces that, when they return, special consideration will be given to them in their efforts to get employment.
The post-Civil War law specified disabled veterans, recognizing that economic damage that could result from injuries in service to the country. After World War I, executive orders expanded preference to all honorably discharged war veterans.
The World War II-era law largely codified existing executive orders.
The Office of Personnel Management website states:
Recognizing their sacrifice, Congress enacted laws to prevent veterans seeking federal employment from being penalized for their time in military service. Veterans’ preference recognizes the economic loss suffered by citizens who have served their country in uniform, restores veterans to a favorable competitive position for government employment, and acknowledges the larger obligation owed to disabled veterans.
The Government Accountability Office reported last month that federal agencies didn’t follow procedures to avoid favoritism in hiring a quarter of President Barack Obama’s political appointees that transitioned into career positions. The report sampled the actions of 30 federal agencies in such “conversions” from Jan. 1, 2010, to Oct. 1, 2015.
In cases with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Department of Health and Human Services, this meant bypassing past qualified veterans despite that statutory preference.
Unlike political appointees, federal workers in the civil service system are hired through a merit system, are difficult to fire, and carry over in changes of administrations, Republican or Democrat.
In 1883, Congress passed the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act to replace a “spoils system” with a merit system of hiring. Under the merit system, employees would be specifically hired based on scores and tests rather than the preference of the political party in power. The new system also made it more difficult for a new administration to fire workers.
Agencies and employees face consequences when procedures are not followed, said Office of Personnel Management spokesman Sandy Day.
“In such cases, [Office of Personnel Management] conducts a post-appointment review,” Day told The Daily Signal. “When we cannot conclude the hiring action was free from political influence, we require the agency to take corrective action and hold the agency accountable for carrying it out.”
If there was a violation, Day said, “The individual would either have to be placed back in his or her political position or, if that was not possible, have his or her employment terminated.”
Veterans’ preference has been scrutinized, even under Senate Armed Service Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., as the Senate voted to make changes in its version of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. Congress has since removed the changes from the bill.
Defense Department officials reportedly pressed for the change in June, concerned that some of the senior positions weren’t going to the most experienced applicants.
The change would have limited veterans’ preference to “single use,” which means, it could only be used to get one job. So, veterans already working in government civilian jobs who are applying for higher positions, would not have preference.
However, McCain scrapped the idea in October, after veteran groups objected. In a letter to the American Legion, McCain said, “Given your and others’ concerns, I will ensure that this provision, which is not included in the House bill, is not included in the NDAA conference report.”
“We appreciate Sen. McCain’s stalwart defense of an important benefit for all veterans who’ve served and sacrificed for their country,” American Legion National Commander Charles E. Schmidt said in a statement. “We look forward to working with the chairman to ensure the final NDAA properly protects this earned benefit.”