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Witness Testimony of Anita R. Hanson, U.S. Office of Personnel Management, Outreach Group Manager

Good afternoon, Chairwoman Herseth Sandlin and Members of the Subcommittee.  Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss veterans’ preference and the role of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM).  I serve as Outreach Group Manager at OPM where I have primary responsibility on behalf of Director Linda Springer for outreach to returning service members and to all our Nation’s veterans on the Federal employment hiring preferences they have earned.  As a disabled Navy veteran, I care deeply about this topic and am proud to serve my country helping my fellow veterans.

OPM’s Role

Director Springer and all of us at OPM take very seriously our obligation to ensure that veterans have full access to Federal civilian jobs following their separation from military service.  Our obligation is grounded in veterans’ preference laws that have been a cornerstone of America’s civil service since its inception. 

Veterans’ preference is also at the very core of OPM’s mission, which is to ensure the Federal Government has an effective civilian workforce.  I would like to take a few moments to focus on our efforts across Government to promote and preserve veterans’ preference and our work to educate veterans about Federal job opportunities as we help to prepare these American heroes for their transition from military service.  

Oversight and Accountability

As part of our oversight of human capital management responsibilities at OPM, we use an audit-based approach to ensure that competitive hiring practices used by Federal agencies comply with veterans’ preference laws and merit system principles.  Since 1996, when OPM began broadly delegating examining authority to Federal agencies, we have conducted almost 1200 audits of agency delegated examining units (DEUs).  Our audits cover all aspects of competitive examining, including the application of veterans’ preference.  We also annually conduct Human Resource Operations Audits that examine a number of agency human resources (HR) programs, including competitive examining and the use of veteran hiring authorities and practices. 

As part of every OPM audit, we rigorously examine recruitment actions, how applications are handled and processed, and how selection decisions are made.  We carefully examine whether veterans’ preference was properly applied, and we review certificates of eligible candidates to see if there are patterns in how those certificates are used -- or not used -- that would indicate whether or not veterans are receiving legitimate consideration. 

For the past two years, OPM has been helping agencies establish sound internal accountability systems to ensure HR programs operate within merit system principles and comply with veterans’ preference laws and regulations.  When agencies conduct their own audits, which are key components of these accountability systems, OPM actively participates to ensure compliance with laws and regulations, including the application of all aspects of veterans’ preference.   

When we find violations of law or regulation, we take steps to ensure corrective action is taken.  We can direct an agency to give a veteran priority consideration for the next job vacancy for which he or she is qualified if we believe that veteran was denied preference previously.  If we find evidence that veterans’ preference was knowingly denied, which is a prohibited personnel practice, we would then refer the matter to the Office of Special Counsel or the agency’s Inspector General.  We may also withdraw an agency’s delegated examining authority if we find systemic problems.     

In our experience, the vast majority of Federal agencies follow veterans’ preference requirements to the letter of the law.  We typically do not see systemic violations of veterans’ preference across an entire agency.  When we do find problems, they tend to be isolated to a specific installation or organization and are typically caused by inadequate direction or lack of adequate accountability systems.    

Hiring and Retention

OPM works diligently to make sure all Federal agencies understand the value and importance of hiring those who have answered the call to duty.  As you may know, we have predicted that more than 60 percent of the Federal workforce will be eligible to retire over the next decade.  As such, we have an enormous recruitment challenge where we simply cannot afford to overlook a talent pool as rich and varied as veterans.  The dedication and professionalism of the men and women who serve in the armed forces are without equal.  As members of the best trained volunteer military in the world, veterans have demonstrated an aptitude for excellence, hands-on experience, and teamwork.

Our most recent annual report to Congress in November, 2006 indicates that one of every four Federal workers is a veteran – 456,000 out of 1.8 million.  93,000 of those veterans are disabled, nearly 50,000 of whom are “seriously” disabled, meaning they have disability ratings of 30 percent or more.  It is clear from this report that the Federal Government continues to lead the nation as an employer of choice for veterans and especially disabled veterans – and we expect this will continue to be the case when our next annual report is presented to the Congress this coming November.  We are particularly proud of our record at OPM where nearly 30 percent of our new hires have been veterans, making us a leader among independent Federal agencies.

Your letter of invitation also asked OPM to discuss veteran retention rates.  Our review of available data from 93 Federal agencies indicates an average veteran retention rate of 88.4 percent between Fiscal Year 2005 and Fiscal Year 2006.  Some of the highest retention rates are found at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of the Army, and Department of Homeland Security.  Only 9 of the 93 agencies we reviewed had retention rates less than sixty percent.  We believe these numbers confirm that, on average, Federal agencies are succeeding in retaining veterans as part of the Federal workforce.  

Outreach Efforts

OPM also works directly with veterans to educate them on employment opportunities with the Federal Government.  Our educational and recruitment initiatives provide veterans and agency hiring managers with timely and useful information on veterans’ preference and Federal employment opportunities.

Most recently, OPM hosted a first-of-its-kind live webcast offering comprehensive information on veterans’ preference rights and eligibilities.  A tape of the webcast is now available to veterans and their families 24 hours a day, 7-days a week, on OPM’s website – www.opm.gov/veterans.   

OPM staff frequently visit veterans’ medical facilities and military installations where we speak with transitioning military members about opportunities to continue serving their country as part of the Federal civilian workforce.  We provide training on how to effectively use our USAJOBS website where job vacancy announcements and applications can be found.  We also provide training on resume writing, interviewing techniques, and general information on veterans’ preference and other special appointing authorities for veterans.  We provide similar employment help to veterans at job fairs across the country. 

Over the past two years, OPM has established veterans’ outreach offices at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here in Washington, DC and Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.   A third outreach office will soon open at Ft. Carson, Colorado.  As you know, work at these hospitals is aimed at helping wounded veterans recover physically and psychologically as they transition back to civilian life.  We provide these wounded veterans with Federal job information and counseling; we offer classes that teach resume-writing and offer tips on how to translate military accomplishments into a set of documented knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) that can be used when applying for Federal jobs.

As another part of our outreach efforts, OPM meets quarterly with the major Veterans’ Service Organizations (VSOs) to address important veterans’ issues and to provide an opportunity for VSOs to share their concerns.  We work closely with VSO leadership to ensure that veterans’ preference rights are honored and protected throughout Government, and we value the constructive working relationships we have developed.

Governmentwide Activities

Issuing regulations and guidance is another way OPM fulfills its obligation to ensure veterans’ preference is adhered to throughout the Federal Government.  For example, we published regulations in January 2006 making it a prohibited personnel practice to violate veterans’ preference when using alternative rating and selection procedures commonly known as category rating.

We continue to update our veterans’ employment guidance, contained in our VETGUIDE and Delegated Examining Operations Handbook.  Our website contains extensive guidance describing the rights and benefits of reservists called to active duty.  We have also published a set of Frequently Asked Questions on military leave in recognition of the significant number of Federal employees currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

OPM has improved our web-based veterans’ products in an effort to provide better customer service to veterans who are seeking Federal jobs.  For example, we have enhanced our USAJOBS website to make it more veteran-friendly by providing prominent home page links to veterans’ employment information and web resources at agencies and elsewhere.

We have partnered with our colleagues in other Federal agencies to safeguard veterans’ preference entitlements.  We are proud of our teamwork with the Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS) to help resolve veterans’ preference and veterans’ reemployment rights issues.  And last year we revised and streamlined our most used Federal form -- Standard Form 15, Application for 10 Point Veteran’s Preference -- by aligning it with current policy of the Department of Veterans Affairs and making it more user-friendly for both veterans and agencies.

Most recently, OPM was proud to play an active role in the deliberations of the Task Force on Returning Global War on Terror Heroes established by President Bush on March 6, 2007.  We believe the interagency recommendations produced by this task force will be very helpful to veterans as they transition back to civilian life.

Conclusion

Madam Chairwoman, OPM is proud of its efforts to preserve and protect veterans’ preference and we are committed to making sure Federal employment opportunities are made available to our veterans.  I would be happy to answer any questions you or other Subcommittee Members may have regarding my statement.