WASHINGTON – A bill is moving through Congress that would give more veterans an advantage in getting federal government jobs and provide a mechanism to combat hiring discrimination against them.
The bill, approved Wednesday by the House Government and Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Service, would expand the number of veterans covered under a 1944 law designed to ease the re- entry of wartime veterans into civilian life.
Sponsored by subcommittee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., the measure would permit hiring preferences for veterans who served for at least three years and were honorably discharged after 1976. Under existing law, only veterans discharged before 1976 are covered.
“Veterans’ preference is an earned right, not a gift,” Mica said. “It’s a small boost.”
Preference for the eligible veterans comes in the form of a five-point boost in scores federal agencies use to rank job applicants. All applicants get a score of one to 100.
The bill also would ensure preferences for veterans who did not serve in an active campaign, such as the peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and Somalia or Operation Desert Storm. Under existing law, veterans who have not been involved in a campaign are ineligible for preference.
Mica, who sponsored a similar bill last year that passed in the House but did not receive a Senate vote, included a provision in this year’s bill to make unfair hiring practices against veterans a violation of personnel policy. Penalties could include suspension, firing or a $1,000 fine.
“We found that veterans’ preference is often ignored or circumvented,” Mica said, citing a 1995 General Accounting Office report. The report revealed a “strong anti-veteran culture in the federal bureaucracy,” he said.
The GAO report showed that federal agencies choose not to hire veterans who are the top candidates about 70 percent of the time.
According to Office of Personnel Management reports from last fall, the departments of Treasury, Education, Health and Human Services and Agriculture have the lowest numbers of veteran employees among executive departments.
They are “far below the curve,” Mica said of the agencies.
George Munoz, an assistant secretary at the Treasury Department, disagreed.
“Treasury actually is not behind the curve. We don’t have that kind of selection bias,” he said.
Munoz said most government agencies have a much higher percentage of veteran workers than non-government employers.
Veterans make up 11.3 percent of the non-government work force, according to the GAO. They make up 27.5 percent of the federal government work force, according to OPM.
OPM Director James King told the subcommittee that the Clinton administration supports Mica’s measure. And, he said, statistics show the hiring situation is already improving.
Between 1990 and 1992, veterans made up about 18.5 percent of the new hires to full-time, permanent, federal government jobs. That percentage went up more than 50 percent between 1993 and 1995, when veterans were 31.1 percent of the new hires, King said.
The full committee will review the bill within the next few weeks, subcommittee staff said. Mica said he hopes to get the measure to a House vote before March 20, when Congress goes on a recess.