Military spouses should see more flexible job opportunities under new OPM hiring policy

Agencies will soon get another flexibility in their hiring toolkit, this time to help recruit military spouses.

A new final rule from the Office of Personnel Management, scheduled for publication Tuesday, will allow agencies to forgo the traditional government hiring procedures and noncompetitively appoint some military spouses to certain positions.

The hiring flexibilities apply to the spouses of active-duty service members, spouses of military members who have a 100% disability rating from the Department of Veterans and certain widows of service members killed in the line of duty.

Under the new policy, agencies can appoint military spouses to temporary, term or permanent positions in the civil service, OPM said. Military spouses must be currently married to an active or injured service member at the time the agencies make their appointments.

The hiring flexibility has been years in the making. Congress included military spouse hiring changes in several past defense policy bills, most recently in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act.

OPM’s final rule implements many of those changes, including a temporary waiver of certain eligibility requirements for military spouses.

“It removes limitations — such as a relocation requirement, geographic restrictions and arbitrary quotas — which caused this authority to be underused until now,” Rob Shriver, OPM’s associate director of employee services, said of the new military spouse hiring authority in a Medium blog post. “As a result, this new regulation means more military spouses can find their place in the federal workforce, and federal agencies have a larger talent pool of highly-qualified people to hire from.”

For the next 22 months, military spouses are no longer limited to federal jobs in the geographic area where their partners are assigned for active duty. They can also receive unlimited noncompetitive appointments through the August 2023 deadline, OPM said.

Under previous policy, service members had to receive orders authorizing a permanent change of station, and military spouses had to relocate to that location in order to be eligible for a noncompetitive appointment to an agency in that region.

That requirement is gone, at least temporarily, through Aug. 13, 2023, a date Congress included in the 2019 NDAA.

For OPM, this temporary flexibility conveniently aligns with the federal government’s recent embrace of telework, giving military spouses a chance to take advantage of emerging remote work opportunities.

“Employers across sectors and around the world rely heavily on telework and remote work as a result of the pandemic, and the federal government is no exception,” Shriver said. “These have become the new ways of working, and OPM is helping agencies use these flexibilities as strategic management tools to better recruit and retain workers. This creates an unique opportunity for military spouses — while military families often have to move frequently, they can access their work remotely and remain in their federal jobs.”

The geographic and eligibility flexibilities will lift on Aug. 13, 2023. After that date, military spouses will only receive noncompetitive appointments to a federal position in the region where his or her partners is stationed for duty, unless there are no agencies in that particular location.

From that date forward, military members must actively receive orders to move, and their spouses must relocate with them to be eligible for future noncompetitive appointments, OPM said.

In addition, military spouses will no longer have unlimited noncompetitive appointments after the August 2023 sunset date. Instead, they’re limited to one such appointment each time for each relocation, OPM said.

Military families usually move every two-to-three years, and military spouses face a 22% unemployment rate, the Defense Department said last year.

“Military spouses are versatile, talented, adaptable, and experienced leaders who strengthen the organizations they join,” Kiran Ahuja, OPM director, said in a statement. “President Biden promised to harness the unique skills and experiences military spouses draw from, and OPM’s regulation expanding the military spouse noncompetitive appointing authority will help military families thrive and allow federal agencies to hire from this highly qualified talent pool.”

Military spouse hiring was also a priority under the previous administration. A 2018 executive order instructed agencies to step up military spouse hiring, mostly by using the authorities they already have to recruit them through noncompetitive appointments. The order also required annual reports from agencies and OPM on how they’re using military spouse hiring authorities.

The military spouse final rule at last implements those reporting requirements. Under the new hiring flexibility, agencies must report each year on the number of applicants, new hires and positions they’ve made available through the military spouse hiring policy.

Tuesday’s final rule is the third hiring flexibility OPM has pushed out through regulatory procedures this summer. The agency finalized a noncompetitive hiring authority for student interns last month, as well as a new policy that allows agencies to rehire former federal employees at higher grades than when they originally left government.

The military spouse hiring authority goes into effect Oct. 21.

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