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No Colonel left behind

No matter how well intentioned, legislation that favors any particular group can cause bad feeling, resentment and litigation. Affirmative action has been a controversial topic since it was first introduced to address gender and racial equality, and veteran's preferences are potentially likely to cause similar controversy.

The U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) recently released a report regarding veteran's preferences in hiring practices for civilian employees of the Department of Defense. Based on their findings, the MSPB recommends the use of an oversight process to ensure that veterans who are hired, obtain their jobs on merit and not by favoritism or other inappropriate means.

A significant element of the misperceptions that may occur regarding this process, stem from the innate complexity of the hiring procedures. The preferences may vary from the hiring agency, to the position being filled to the person the preference may be available for.

However, many employees report of the writing of position descriptions for specific persons and the hiring of individuals who retired on Friday and were hired on Monday, which has led to the coinage of the phrase, "No Colonel left behind."

The MSPB suggest that Congress address this problem because if inappropriate hiring practices are being used, that behavior can be destructive to morale and corrosive to productivity within an agency or department.

At the Department of Defense, 8 percent report they have witnessed such behavior. And this inappropriate behavior has also been reported by supervisors and managers, not just employees. The MSPB recommends implementation of the 180-day rule, a version of which was originally drafted in the 1960s.

This rule creates a 180-day waiting period after a servicemember's military retirement and their hiring by a civilian agency. It has been suspended since 2001, although the MSPB's report was unable to determine if there was any record of its ever being enforced.

Allowing qualified veterans a preference for some federal government jobs is reasonable, however, it appears the current system potentially allows inappropriate hiring practices and unduly damages the personal management process within these agencies.

MSPB.gov, "Veteran Hiring in the Civil Service: Practices and Perceptions," August 2014

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