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Meeting of November 16, 2011

Written Testimony of Ray Decker,
Assistant Director for Veteran Services,
U.S. Office of Personnel Management

Thank you for inviting me to this important roundtable on the employment of veterans with disabilities. I look forward to speaking with you about the Federal Governmentís efforts to improve the employment of veterans, including veterans with disabilities, and for the chance to speak with you about the Presidentís Veterans Employment Initiative.

One of the best ways for us to honor the service of the brave men and women in our armed forces is to make sure they have ample opportunities for civilian employment in the Federal Government. They are valued, experienced, and trained. In doing so, we are not only demonstrating appreciation for their service and sacrifice; we are making it possible for the Nation to continue to benefit from their talents, dedication, and training. As I have said many times, hiring veterans makes good business sense.

Veterans Employment Initiative

Recognizing this, President Obama launched the Veterans Employment Initiative in November of 2009, when he issued Executive Order 13518. The order created the Council on Veterans Employment to advise and assist the President on improving employment opportunities for veterans in the Federal Government. The Council is co-chaired by the Secretaries of Labor and Veterans Affairs. The Director of OPM serves as the Vice Chair. Twenty-four agencies are represented on the Council.

More than a year ago, the Veterans Employment Council published the first ever Strategic Plan for Governmentwide Veterans Recruitment and Employment. The Strategic Plan, which covers the period from FY 2010 through FY 2012, maps a comprehensive assault on barriers to veteransí employment in the areas of leadership commitment, skills development, marketing employment opportunities for veterans, and through the creation of a single-source information gateway for disseminating veterans employment information.

One key action required by the Executive order was the establishment of a Veterans Employment Program Office (VEPO) within each of the 24 agencies represented on the Council. The mission of each of these offices is to support the Veterans Employment Initiative and provide employment assistance to veterans at the agency level. OPMís VEPO provides a full range of support to transitioning service members, other veterans Ė including disabled veterans Ė and their family members who seek information on employment in the Federal Government. In November 2010, the physical space for OPMís VEPO with assistive technology was officially opened to assist disabled veterans in their Federal job search. The office also provides workshops and training to veterans, hiring managers, HR Practitioners, and Federal agencies on: Federal Employment Process, Careers in Federal Government, Career Counseling, Federal Benefits, Resume Writing, and Interview Techniques.

Progress in Veterans Employment

The past year has yielded significant progress; the initiative has been on a very positive track. Last September, the Council on Veterans Employment adopted a hiring model that established aggressive, but realistic, goals for veterans hiring by agencies in the previous fiscal year. In the first half of FY 2011, we have seen an increase in the number and percentage of veterans hired. We also had the opportunity to personally update the President on the status of this initiative at the June 30, 2011 Council meeting. These accomplishments reflect agenciesí ongoing commitment to this important initiative, but more importantly, to our Nationís veterans.

The Government hired approximately 4% more veterans in the first three quarters of FY 2011 than in FY 2010, while hiring approximately 30,000 fewer employees. The percentage of veterans hired was 28.4 in the first three quarters of FY 2011 - a 3.7 percentage point increase from FY 2010 (24.7). The Government also hired approximately 0.8 percent more disabled veterans (8.7) in FY 2011 compared to 7.9 in FY 2010. While the Government-wide results are promising, more progress is needed.

As we approach fiscal year 2012, each agency was asked to establish FY 2012 veteran hiring goals based on FY 2011 results. The goals should be based on a combination of FY 2011 (October- March) veterans employment information released by OPM and the agency internal records. Agencies will have an opportunity to make adjustments to the goals based on official FY 2011 veterans employment information released by OPM later in the fiscal year.

OPM, as an agency, has worked hard to provide employment opportunities for veterans. In the first three quarters of FY 2011, we hired approximately 566 new employees and 235 were veterans, of which nearly 102 were disabled veterans. Veterans constituted approximately 41.5% percent of OPMís total new hires, of which 18% were disabled veterans.

Use of Special Hiring Authorities for Veterans

We continue to encourage agencies to make full use of the various hiring authorities that can facilitate veterans employment, including the employment of veterans with disabilities.

For example, the Veteransí Recruitment Act (VRA) authorizes non-competitive appointment for eligible veterans, including disabled veterans and certain other veterans, to positions up to the GS-11 level, or equivalent. VRA appointments grew from 6,659 to nearly 7,000 during the same period.

Veterans with a disability rating of 30 percent or greater are eligible for a special hiring authority, and hiring under this authority accounted for more than 2,000 hires last year, compared to 1,727 in 2009.

The Veterans Employment Opportunities Act (VEOA) can be used to appoint those entitled to veteransí preference, including disabled veterans, or veterans who have at least 3 years of active military service, to permanent positions in the competitive civil service. Hiring of veterans under the VEOA increased from about 20,200 in 2009 to more than 20,750 in 2010.

Disabled veterans eligible for training under the VA vocational rehabilitation program may enroll for training or work experience at an agency under the terms of an agreement between the agency and VA. Upon successful completion, the host agency and VA give the veteran a Certificate of Training showing the occupational series and grade level of the position for which trained. The Certificate of Training allows any agency to appoint the veteran noncompetitively under a status quo appointment which may be converted to career or career-conditional at any time.

Finally, though not designed specifically for veterans, the Schedule A hiring authority for people with disabilities is another authority under which agencies can appoint veterans with disabilities. OPM advises veterans interested in federal employment to seek consideration under any and all hiring authorities and preferences for which they are eligible.

Veterans Acquisition Intern Program

One element of the Veterans Employment Initiative we are particularly excited about is the new Veterans Acquisition Intern Program. This is an inter-agency program designed to recruit student veterans and support their career development once they are hired. Many agencies participated in the Vets 2 Feds Career Development program launched in July 2011, for Contract Specialist Trainees. The Council is currently identifying the next occupation for emphasis in this program. Through the Veterans Acquisition Intern Program, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has a special program with the Department of Veterans Affairs to train Veterans at the FAA Air Traffic controller Academy; Bureau of Land Management has a program to train Veterans to be wild land fire fighters; the Department of Education is developing a program to train Grants Management Specialists.

Veterans Employment Training Modules

The Executive Order establishing the Veterans Employment Initiative required OPM to develop mandatory training for human resources personnel and federal hiring managers on veterans employment, including veteransí preference and special hiring authorities. OPM developed an interactive web-based E-Learning application on veterans employment, which will enable agencies to track the progress of those who take the courses. The training covers veteransí preference, special hiring authorities for veterans, non-competitive appointment eligibility for military spouses, and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). The training was delivered to agencies June 30, 2011.

FedHiresVets.gov

Finally, I wanted to tell you about a special website for veterans. In January 2010, Fedshirevets.gov became operational to support the information needs of transitioning service members, veterans, and military spouses seeking employment in the Federal Government. Besides posting updates on important Veterans Employment Initiative activities, the website provides useful information on veteransí preference, special veterans appointing authorities, and agency-specific Veteran Employment Program Manager contact data. A special feature of the website provides answers to frequently asked questions and offers an opportunity to ask a question not addressed by the content on the web page. Additionally, the associated Facebook and Twitter accounts promote real time social contact on employment opportunities and special events. Since its creation, Fedshirevets.gov has registered well over 1 million hits.

Conclusion

To conclude, I would say that our Veterans Employment Initiative is proceeding in a very positive way. We are pleased with the initial progress we have made, both within OPM and working with the other agencies on the Council on Veterans Employment. We are building a strong program to enhance employment opportunities for veterans, including veterans with disabilities, which we believe can serve as a model for private sector employers as well. Although we know we have accomplished a great deal in a short time, we are also very aware of how much work lies ahead, and we are eager to take it on.

Again, I appreciate your inviting me here today. I would be happy to respond to any questions you may have.