Military spouse hiring authority for agencies extended to 2028

Agencies have a longer window of time to use a hiring tool for bringing military spouses into federal jobs.

The Office of Personnel Management, in an interim final rule published last week, officially extended the deadline for agencies to use certain flexibilities of the military spouse hiring authority. Agencies will be able to use the tool until Dec. 31, 2028.

OPM issued the interim rule last week to avoid a lapse in agencies’ use of the hiring authority, which was originally scheduled to sunset this year. The fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), along with OPM’s new interim regulations, extended the authority for another five years.

The hiring authority, which was last updated in 2021, creates more leeway in federal recruitment by letting agencies forgo traditional hiring procedures and noncompetitively appoint some military spouses to certain positions.

Specifically, agencies can use the authority to hire spouses of active-duty military members, service members who incurred a 100% disability and un-remarried widows and widowers of service members killed during active duty. The authority can apply to permanent, temporary or term appointments.

Of course, it’s still up to the agency to determine the best fit for an open position. The hiring authority doesn’t entitle military spouses to an appointment over any other applicant, OPM said.

Military spouses can often face challenges finding work amid the transitory lifestyle that’s common for many military families.

About 16,000 military, veteran and surviving spouses are currently employed in the federal government. But at the same time, military spouses face a 21% unemployment rate.

Congress included military spouse hiring changes in a handful of defense policy bills over the last several years, most recently in the 2023 NDAA. Offering more hiring options for military spouses has been a priority for the Biden administration.

“Expanding access to federal jobs for military spouses allows spouses to grow and succeed in their own careers while also supporting their partners in uniform,” OPM Director Kiran Ahuja said in a press statement last week. “This policy will assure the federal government’s access to a diverse and talented group of applicants across the globe, and we are honored to benefit from their expertise.”

Under 2021 regulations from OPM, military spouses were also no longer limited to federal jobs in the geographic area where their partners were assigned for active duty. The regulations, published after a 2019 update from Congress, removed relocation requirements and other geographic restrictions for certain federal positions that are eligible for telework or remote work.

A different policy had previously required that service members must receive orders authorizing a permanent change of station, and that military spouses, in order to be eligible for a noncompetitive appointment with an agency in that region, had to relocate to that area.

By removing that requirement, the goal was to broaden the use of telework and remote work-eligible positions for military spouses.

“These changes will continue to enhance the recruitment and hiring of military spouses for permanent federal positions in the competitive service,” OPM said in the interim final rule last week.

The deadline extension from OPM also comes after an executive order that President Joe Biden signed in June, which urged agencies, among other priorities, to do more to recruit military spouses.

“Nearly one in five military families cite challenges with spousal employment as a reason when considering leaving active-duty service,” Biden said in the June executive order. “The challenges associated with the military lifestyle, including permanent change-of-station moves every two to three years on average for active-duty families, mean that military spouses often struggle to find options for work that are portable or allow them to build a sustainable long-term career.”

Agencies have had these hiring pathways available to them for years to hire military spouses outside the standard competitive hiring process. Military spouse hiring was also a priority during the previous administration. An executive order that former President Donald Trump signed in 2018 instructed agencies to step up military spouse hiring, mostly by using the authorities they already have to recruit them through noncompetitive appointments.

Despite having the authority available for years, Biden administration officials said many agencies still aren’t using them often enough for bringing in more military spouses to the federal workforce.

“What we heard frequently from our stakeholders and from military families was that it was a great tool, but not necessarily being utilized fully,” a senior Biden administration official told reporters in June, on the condition of anonymity.

In an effort to increase the number of job postings available to military spouses, the executive order directed agencies to attach the military spouse hiring authority to job postings outside an agency’s workforce.

OPM also shared more details about the hiring authority and how it works for agencies in a Q&A from May this year.

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