Vets in federal jobs hits record

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The share of federal jobs going to veterans is at its highest level in five years, new data shows, with former service members comprising almost half of full-time hires in the last fiscal year.

One in three people in government is now a veteran, proof that the White House’s six-year push to give those who served in the military a leg up in the long hiring queue for federal jobs is working.

The bad news is that once veterans get into government, they don’t stay long. They’re more likely to leave their jobs within two years than nonveterans, the Office of Personnel Management reports, even if they’ve transferred from other federal agencies.

The Small Business Administration had the most trouble keeping veterans in fiscal 2014, with just 62 percent staying two years or more, compared to 88 percent of nonveterans. Former service members left the Commerce Department at similar rates, with 68 percent staying two years or more compared to 82 percent for nonveterans.

Even the Department of Veterans Affairs, traditionally a draw for former troops, lost a little more than a quarter of its veterans within two years, compared to 20 percent of its nonveterans.

The only agencies that kept more veterans than nonveterans on board were the Defense and State Departments, the report released last month shows.

The growing presence in government of men and women with military backgrounds is the most visible federal effort to reward military service since the draft ended in the 1970s. President Barack Obama pushed agencies to increase hiring of veterans starting in 2009, in response to the bleak employment prospects many service members faced after coming home from Afghanistan and Iraq.

The initiative has fueled tensions in federal offices, though, as longtime civil servants and former troops on the other side of the cubicle question each other’s competence and qualifications.

Last year, 47.4 percent of new hires to full-time jobs were veterans, an increase of 1.3 percent over fiscal 2013.

This is the first time the administration has measured how well agencies are keeping veterans, and senior leaders will be rated at the end of this fiscal year on how well they closed the gap between veterans and nonveterans who leave.

“Federal agencies hire them, but where they’re placed and into what job is not always the best fit,” said Joseph Sharpe, director of veterans employment and education for the American Legion. “These retention rates are huge issues for us.”

He noted that many veterans drop out of college and quit jobs in the private sector too. At a Legion conference on veterans employment in Baltimore over the weekend, hiring managers from the Energy, Transportation, Labor, Defense, Treasury and Personnel departments were scheduled to address the issue, Sharpe said.

Hakeem Basheerud-Deen, OPM’s director of veterans services, said in an email that “New hire retention rates vary between agencies. Each agency has its own culture and mission, so it’s difficult to explain the differences in their new hire retention rates.”

Men made up 81 percent of the veterans hired, but just 45 percent of nonveterans. Forty percent of the veterans had college degrees or higher education, compared to 54.7 percent of nonveterans.