Agencies get details on how to better recruit, retain military spouses

A new strategic plan from OPM and OMB comes as part of an executive order to support military spouses’ employment in the federal workforce.

Agencies now have some detailed guidance on hand as they map out their plans for better recruitment and retention of military spouses over the next several years.

A strategic plan from the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of Management and Budget, published Tuesday, explains how agencies can best bring in and support military spouses working in government.

The strategic plan for fiscal 2024 through 2028 comes after an executive order President Joe Biden signed in June 2023. The order called on agencies to make a bigger effort to recruit and retain military and veteran spouses.

Now with a more specific plan available, agencies have several methods — divided into three major sections — to follow and track progress toward reaching the goals set out in the June 2023 executive order.

“This plan will serve as a roadmap to assist agencies with strengthening their ability to recruit, hire, develop, promote and retain this skilled and diverse pool of talent,” OPM Director Kiran Ahuja said in a statement Tuesday. “Agencies are encouraged to evaluate current employment policies, practices and procedures to address the goals and actions in this plan.”

The strategies are all part of a governmentwide goal to address employment challenges for military spouses, survivors and caregivers. This group often faces challenges finding work amid the transitory lifestyle that’s common for many military families.

Governmentwide, there are about 16,000 feds who are military, veteran and surviving spouses. But 21% of active-duty military spouses are currently unemployed. And 92% of military spouses are women, according to the Labor Department.

“Agencies should leverage this untapped talent pool by increasing awareness and marketing the federal government as an employer of choice,” the strategic plan said.

For example, agencies can conduct webinars, ensure openings on USAJobs are correct, and publicize training programs for workforce development.

What’s in the strategic plan?

In the new strategic plan, OPM and OMB said agencies should keep military spouses front of mind. That is especially important when reviewing workforce policies and flexible work arrangements.

“Agency policies could remind managers and supervisors to consider the unique needs of military spouses, caregivers and survivors.” the strategic plan said.

Also contained in the strategic plan, agencies can find ways to measure success of recruitment and retention of military spouses. They’ll see suggested strategies for eliminating barriers to employment for military spouses. For instance, agencies can offer or promote more remote work opportunities.

The Department of Health and Human Services is one agency that has already seen dividends of emphasizing remote work opportunities and other flexibilities that military spouses can get with federal employment.

HHS Chief Human Capital Officer Bob Leavitt said the department has increased the number of military spouses in its workforce by 36% in just the last year. And there are plans underway to try to continue that push for years to come.

It’s not the only effort to help this group of workers. On Capitol Hill, bipartisan lawmakers are also pushing for better federal recruitment and retention of military spouses. A bill called the READINESS Act — if enacted — would provide more job flexibility to the spouses of both active-duty military members and Foreign Service officers. But beyond the bill’s introduction, lawmakers have so far not taken any action on the legislation.

Expectations for DETO programs, HR offices

The new strategic plan from OPM and OMB additionally calls for governmentwide adoption of the Domestic Employee Teleworking Overseas (DETO) program. The DETO program offers remote federal jobs to spouses whose active-duty military or federally employed partner has to move overseas.

Agencies should also “develop a method to track DETO applications received and processed and establish timeframes for processing and approving DETO applications,” the strategic plan said.

Additionally, OPM and OMB emphasized the importance of maintaining metrics, benchmarks and data collection standards. Agencies should use measurements to understand and try to improve employment rates of military spouses. And agencies should regularly reassess their measures to improve recruitment, hiring and retention efforts, OPM and OMB said.

Shortly before the release of the new strategic plan, agencies saw an extension of the military spouse hiring authority from OPM. The direct hire authority — which lets agencies forgo traditional hiring procedures and noncompetitively appoint some military spouses to certain positions — won’t sunset until 2028.

Now, under the new strategic plan, OPM and OMB said agency leaders should encourage their hiring managers to take full advantage of that direct hire authority.

OPM and OMB’s plan additionally provides guidance specifically for agency human resources offices. Agencies should “provide annual training for agency HR personnel and hiring managers concerning the employment of military-connected families and provide technical guidance,” the strategic plan said.

The strategic plan is the first of its kind, aiming to help agencies as they try to improve recruitment and retention of military spouses and other military-connected individuals in the federal workforce.

“Top leadership support, commitment and accountability in advocating the value and importance of implementing this plan is critical to the agency’s success,” OPM and OMB said.

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