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Witness Testimony of John M. McWilliam, U.S. Department of Labor, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Veterans' Employment Training Service

Madam Chairwoman and Members of the Subcommittee:

I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today to talk about the role of the Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS) in assuring Veterans’ Preference is applied in the Federal government hiring process.  We appreciate the interest of the Committee on this very important benefit for veterans, especially veterans returning from the Global War on Terror who are interested in working for the Federal government.

First let me say that we enjoy a very close working relationship with officials at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).  Our staffs are in regular contact with each other on both investigative and educational/outreach efforts.  We work collaboratively with OPM to implement, enforce and improve Veterans’ Preference in Federal hiring.  We are both champions of Veterans’ Preference, and we regularly communicate that to all Federal agencies and departments.  We believe the Federal government has an excellent record in hiring qualified veterans, and both agencies are committed to ensuring veterans receive all rights and benefits to which they are entitled under Federal employment laws. 

Agency Responsibilities

OPM is responsible for providing information to veterans and agencies on Veterans’ Preference and the procedures for implementing the preference.   OPM promulgates the regulations for Veterans’ Preference and special hiring authorities for veterans, in addition to conducting periodic, systemic reviews of agency hiring practices. 

VETS is responsible for investigating and attempting to resolve Veterans’ Preference complaints against Federal agencies filed under the Veterans Employment Opportunities Act (VEOA).  The VEOA provides that a veteran or other preference eligible who believes that his or her rights under any law or regulation related to Veterans' Preference have been violated, may file a written complaint with VETS.  We carry out our responsibility under the VEOA through the use of trained investigators in each of our state offices.  

The Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) is responsible for adjudicating Veterans’ Preference complaints filed by a veteran or preference eligible person, if VETS has investigated and is unable to resolve the issue.  The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) is responsible for investigating alleged prohibited personnel practices (PPPs) relating to failure to comply with Veterans’ Preference requirements.  

VETS’ Investigative Procedures

VETS investigates all official written Veterans’ Preference complaints and if the case is found to have merit, we will make every effort to work with the agency to resolve it.  If resolution cannot be achieved within 60 days, the claimant may elect to appeal to the MSPB.  

If VETS determines that a complaint has no merit, or, if the agency refuses to comply with VETS’ determination that a veteran has presented a meritorious claim, the veteran has the right to appeal the original Federal agency’s action to the MSPB within 15 days after the claimant is notified of the unfavorable resolution of his case.  If the MSPB has not issued a judicially reviewable decision within 120 days, the claimant may file a claim in the appropriate U. S. District Court and the MSPB will cease all activity on the claim.  If the MSPB or the U.S. District Court finds in favor of the claimant, the MSPB or the Court may order the agency to comply with the applicable provisions of law and award compensation for any loss of wages or benefits. 

To further support these efforts, VETS entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with OSC in December 2000 requiring that any meritorious Veterans’ Preference cases be automatically referred to OSC for review as potential PPPs.

Recent Veterans’ Preference Investigative Data    

The table below shows Veterans’ Preference investigative actions by VETS for Fiscal Years (FYs) 2005 and 2006, and through July for FY 2007.

 

FY 2005

FY 2006

FY 2007 (thru July)

Carried in from previous years

45

67

29

Cases opened

527

479

338

Cases closed

506

517

335

Average Days Open

24

31

30

Merit

15

18

9

No merit

380

369

220

Merit determination not made (Admin. Closure/Withdrawn/Not Eligible)

111

130

106

From the table above, it might appear that we are seeing a steady decrease in the number of Veterans’ Preference cases.  However, in FY 2005, 156 cases were filed by one individual, which skews the data for that year.  Based on numbers from FY 2006 and thus far in FY 2007, it appears there will be a decrease in case load of approximately 16% in the current fiscal year.  We believe this decline may be due in part to the efforts of Disabled Veterans Outreach Program (DVOP) specialists, Local Veterans Employment Representatives (LVERs), and Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) in explaining Veterans’ Preference to job-seeking veterans.  Additionally, the Department’s Employment Laws Assistance for Workers and Small Businesses (elaws) program (described below) and VETS’ focus on informing service members of Veterans’ Preference during Transition Assistance Program (TAP) employment workshops also have been instrumental in the decrease. 

The table also shows that most of the recent Veterans’ Preference complaints filed with the Department have been determined to have no merit.  There are three primary reasons for this: 

  1. There is significant confusion among veterans regarding the difference between open competitive and merit promotion job announcements.  Since Veterans’ Preference does not apply in merit promotion situations, many cases are closed with no merit findings because Veterans’ Preference did not apply.
  2. Many agencies do not respond to individual inquiries from veterans regarding the status of their applications.  As a result, we receive numerous complaints that were filed before the veteran was notified of the results of the hiring process.  In these cases, VETS opens a case file and then discovers that the position either still is pending, has been cancelled, or that another veteran has been selected for the position and the agency had not yet notified other applicants of their hiring decision. 
  3. We also receive many complaints from preference eligible veterans because an agency makes a determination that the veteran is not qualified for the position.  Since Veterans’ Preference is only applied after an individual is determined to be qualified for the position, we cannot conduct an investigation on qualification issues.  However, we will advise the claimant that he or she may request a second level review of their qualification issue with the agency, or to contact their OPM Service Center for additional assistance.

Outreach and Education Efforts

In addition to our investigative responsibility, VETS conducts an extensive compliance assistance program. This outreach is focused on educating potential Veterans’ Preference eligibles and Federal agencies with regard to Veterans’ Preference rights and responsibilities.  

In 1997, the Department launched its Employment Laws Assistance for Workers and Small Businesses (elaws) program.  This program consists of interactive e-tools or “Advisors” that provide easy-to-understand information about many of the Federal employment laws administered by DOL.  The Advisor simulates the interaction a person might have with an employment law expert.  It asks questions and provides answers based on the responses given. 

As part of the elaws program, VETS has developed a Veterans’ Preference elaws Advisor (http://www.dol.gov/elaws/vetspref.htm). The Veterans’ Preference Advisor was the first online elaws Advisor developed by DOL.  This Advisor is consistently among the top five most popular elaws Advisors, just behind Advisors for the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act, even though Veterans’ Preference applies to a much smaller population of eligible persons.  In FY 2006, the Advisor had an average of over 10,000 visitors a month; and through June in FY 2007, an average of over 11,500 visitors a month. The Advisor has been consistently updated to reflect regulatory changes, as well as advances in technology. 

Complaints may now be filed electronically 

It is now possible for users to access and file Veterans’ Preference complaints through the Veterans’ Preference Advisor.  After responding to the questions in the Advisor, and gaining a better understanding of his or her Veterans’ Preference rights, the veteran or preference eligible is given the opportunity to file a complaint electronically.  The electronic filing goes directly to a VETS investigator for processing.  

State of the art technology allows us to serve our customers with up-to-date information through the Advisor, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and to begin the complaint process in a most expeditious manner.  The Advisor enables us to be at the forefront in providing outreach and information on Veterans’ Preference, and to more quickly address and prevent violations of the law.

Disabled Veterans Hiring Initiative (DVHI)

VETS also conducts outreach activities through our Disabled Veterans Hiring Initiative (DVHI).  DVHI was developed several years ago to educate Federal agency human resources personnel and agency hiring officials on how to better use the available special non-competitive hiring authorities to hire certain veterans and disabled veterans.  

The DVHI initiative first focused on Federal agencies in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area. We conducted presentations to the Federal Executive Boards in regions where there is significant Federal hiring.  In addition, we have continued our special emphasis in the national capital region by hosting Federal job fairs specifically for veterans.

In response to your questions regarding data about the number of veterans and/or disabled veterans applying for positions at DOL, we provide the following information: 

In FY 2006, 14,161 veterans applied for  employment at DOL (4,970 of them were disabled veterans).  Of these veterans, 1,311 applied for positions with VETS, of which 630 were disabled.  In FY 2007, 15,273 veterans applied for employment at DOL, of which 5, 219 were disabled.  Of these veterans, 1,285 applied for positions at VETS, of which 571 were disabled.

As of August, 26, 2007, veterans constitute 17% of DOL’s total workforce, and  5.4% are disabled.  Veterans comprise 75%  of VETS’ workforce, of which 53.6% are disabled. 

Further, of the DOL workforce in GS-9 or above positions, 18% are veterans and 4.7% are disabled veterans.  In VETS, 80.4% of veterans are in a GS-9 or above positions, and 47.3% are disabled veterans.

In FY 2006, through Special Hiring Authorities and under the VEOA, the Department hired 35 veterans including 3 veterans in VETS.    Under the Veterans Recruitment Authority (VRA) the Department hired 16 veterans, including 8 veterans in VETS. And, under the “30% or more disabled” veteran hiring authority, the Department hired 2 such veterans in VETS. 

Through August 27, 2007, the Department hired 28 veterans through the VEOA, 15 veterans under the VRA, 1 veteran in VETS, and 2 veterans under the “30% or more disabled veteran” hiring authority in VETS. 

Partnership with OPM

VETS collaborates continuously with OPM to help improve representation of veterans in the Federal workforce.  Our respective staff members are in frequent communication regarding specific investigative issues and general trends in Veterans’ Preference.  Moreover, VETS makes regular use of the excellent material that has been developed by OPM.

For example, the OPM “Veteran Invitational Program” provides information that promotes hiring of veterans and explains how veterans can apply for Federal employment.  VETS has provided this information to all field staff that provide information to veteran employment specialists in America’s workforce system, as well as directly to veterans and disabled veterans.  VETS also distributed the OPM-produced DVD, “What Veterans Need to Know About Veterans’ Preference,” to field offices for their use in making presentations to veterans.

Finally, through the TAP Employment Workshops, VETS ensures that transitioning service members are provided essential information about Veterans’ Preference as well as general information about the Federal hiring process and resources available.  In addition, VETS developed a REALifelines (Recovery and Employment Assistance Lifelines) elaws Advisor.  This Advisor was designed for wounded and injured service members and veterans transitioning to the civilian workforce and provides specific information on Federal employment, including Veterans’ Preference and special hiring authorities, as well as one-on-one employment assistance in each of our states.

Madam Chairwoman, that concludes my statement and I would be happy to respond to any questions.