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In a race for federal jobs, military spouses get a “leg up” on the competition

August 14th, 2009  |  Lucas Otto

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Of all human powers operating on the affairs of mankind, none is
greater than that of competition.

-Henry Clay

If open competition is king, then under new guidelines issued by the Office of Personnel Management, those spouses of active-duty service members may have just had the pool of competition drained a bit. Well, maybe not exactly, but under these new rules, effective September 11, 2009, issued by the Obama administration (and first initiated by the Bush administration), federal agencies will soon be able to hire military spouses by allowing them to “bypass” traditional hiring procedures for many open federal positions.

Certainly, no one would begrudge anyone for making life easier for military spouses whose wives or husbands are serving our country. Yet, with a down economy and high unemployment, those open government jobs may have just gotten a little more difficult to get. Now to be fair, these new hiring rules merely allow eligible spouses to apply for federal jobs with the option of asking recruiters to allow them to bypass the traditional hiring process—an option most are, without a doubt, certain to avail themselves of.

However, with a growing population of unemployed, and programs already in place that provide preference to some military groups (i.e., veterans’ preference), does this program simply create a “spouses preference” that just shrinks, rather than encourages, competition for open federal jobs? Michael Maloney, head of OPM’s staffing group, denied such a preference was being created on Federal News Radio, and stated further that:

[i]t provides hiring managers with an option. They’re just another source of applicants they can consider when filling those jobs. There’s no requirement that they use this authority, or that jobs are set aside for these individuals. With respect to the issue of a “preference” or an “advantage,” a “preference” is giving points to veterans in examination, or rules that you can’t pick non-veterans before considering veterans. This isn’t that; it’s just another way to consider these individuals, and it’s completely discretionary with the agencies.

And OPM Director John Berry said in a statement that “[t]his family-friendly policy provides employment opportunities from individuals and a measure of economic stability to military families who must deal with a multitude of issues arising from one spouse serving their country [.]” Nevertheless, with nearly half a million active service members married, this could potentially create a situation where thousands of spouses could find it much easier to get a federal job. One could argue that there are already loopholes that make getting jobs easier for some than others, i.e., knowing someone or having more education, but those aren’t federally mandated situations.

Yet, when you are talking about the biggest employer in the United States making something easier, even when it is for a group as honorable as military spouses, that just makes things a little tougher for the “average Joe or Jane” who is still out there looking for a job. It’s a question of, with all these military spouses, all this unemployment, and only so many federal jobs available, will an “open competition” for some federal jobs simply be among military spouses?