Dispel misperceptions about Veterans’ preference in federal hiring

Dispel misperceptions about Veterans’ preference in federal hiring
By Julie Davidson, cyberFEDS® Editorial Director

IN FOCUS: While there is no dispute about the merits and need for Veterans’ preference in federal hiring, a recent House hearing made it clear that there are still a lot of misperceptions about how Veterans’ preference should be appropriately applied. So cyberFEDS® reached out to the Office of Personnel Management for some insights. The following responses were provided by Hakeem Basheerud-Deen, OPM’s director of Veterans Services.

Q. How does Veterans’ preference apply with category rating and how are the 5 or 10 points applied?

A. Under category rating procedures, 5 or 10 points are not added as numerical scores. Applicants who meet minimum qualification requirements established for the position and whose job-related competencies/KSAs (knowledge, skills and abilities) have been assessed are rated by being placed in one of two or more predefined quality categories instead of being ranked in numeric score order. Veterans’ preference is applied by listing preference eligibles ahead of non-preference eligibles within each quality category established. Except for positions other than scientific and professional positions at GS-9 (or equivalent) grade level or higher, qualified preference eligibles who have a compensable service-connected disability rating of 10 percent or more are listed in the highest quality category, again ahead of non-preference eligibles.
Selection occurs from the highest quality category. Any eligible candidate(s) in the highest quality category may be selected; except a non-preference eligible may not be selected over a preference eligible. If there are only preference eligibles or only non-preference eligibles in the highest quality category, the selecting official may select any eligible candidate in the highest quality category regardless of the number of eligible candidates. But, if there is a combination of preference eligibles and non-preference eligibles in the highest quality category, the selecting official cannot select a non-preference eligible over a preference eligible without receiving approval to pass over the preference eligible(s).

Q. Can you explain some of the Veterans hiring authorities and when they are most appropriate to use?

A. Agencies may choose from a variety of appointing authorities to fill federal jobs, including special hiring authorities provided in law and regulations that do not require competition. In addition, there are provisions of law that provide certain Veterans an opportunity to apply for positions that would not otherwise be open to them.
• Veterans Recruitment Appointment (VRA) is an excepted service authority that allows agencies to appoint eligible Veterans without competition up to and including a GS-11, or equivalent, grade level. This is an excepted service appointment that after successfully completing two years allows the Veteran to be converted to the competitive service. Eligible Veterans, separated from active duty under honorable conditions, include disabled Veterans, Veterans who served in a war or who are in receipt of a campaign badge, Veterans in receipt of an Armed Forces service medal, and those Veterans recently discharged within the last three years.
m An agency may simply appoint any VRA eligible who meets the basic qualifications requirements for the position to be filled without having to announce the job or rate and rank applicants. However, Veterans’ preference applies in making appointments under the VRA authority. This means that if an agency has two or more VRA candidates and one or more is a preference eligible, the agency must apply Veterans’ preference.
• The 30 Percent or More Disabled Veteran authority allows any Veteran with a 30 percent or more service-connected disability to be non-competitively appointed to a term appointment or a temporary appointment of more than 60 days. The agency may convert the employee, without a break in service, to a career or career-conditional appointment at any time during the employee’s temporary or term appointment. There is no grade level limitation for this authority, but the appointee must meet all qualification requirements. Eligible disabled Veterans include those retired from active military service with a service-connected disability rating of 30 percent or more and those Veterans rated by the Department of Veterans Affairs with a compensable service-connected disability of 30 percent or more.
• Veterans Employment Opportunities Act (VEOA) allows preference eligibles and other eligible Veterans to apply for positions announced under merit promotion procedures when the agency is recruiting from outside its own workforce. A VEOA eligible who competes under merit promotion procedures and is selected is given a career or career-conditional appointment. Veterans’ preference is not a factor in these appointments. Eligible Veterans include preference eligibles and those Veterans separated from the Armed Forces after three or more years of continuous active service performed under honorable conditions.
• Disabled Veterans Enrolled in a VA Training Program may be noncompetitively appointed under a status quo appointment upon successful completion of the program. Veterans eligible for training under the VA vocational rehabilitation program may enroll for training or work experience at an agency under the terms of an agreement between the agency and VA. Training is tailored to the individual’s needs and goals. Upon successful completion, the Veteran receives a Certificate of Training showing the occupational series and grade level of the position for which the Veteran trained. The Certificate of Training allows any agency to appoint the Veteran noncompetitively under a status quo appointment that may be converted to career or career-conditional at any time.

Q. What can agencies do to ensure that Veterans’ preference is being correctly understood and used?

A. Generally, agency accountability programs are in place to ensure hiring actions and processes are carried out in accordance with Veterans’ preference and all other applicable laws, regulations, and agency policy. Programs may include internal agency oversight programs as well as annual self-audits required by the Delegated Examining Agreements in place to delegate competitive examining authority to agencies. Additionally, OPM provides oversight of all aspects of federal hiring through our Human Capital Management Accountability Program.
More specifically, as HR specialists work with their hiring managers on filling specific positions, they guide managers through the process including explaining Veterans’ preference and how it applies to the various hiring authorities being considered or used. Additionally, there are many sources of training available for both HR practitioners and hiring managers, including free training available through HR University at HRU.gov.

Q. One common ‘myth’ is that Veterans are often hired instead of more qualified non-Veterans.  What can agencies do to dispel this myth and ensure qualified Veterans are being hired?

A. Veterans’ preference is a statutory requirement that may result, in some instances, in certain disabled Veterans, who are qualified, being considered for a federal job over more qualified non-Veterans because this is what the law provides for. Even with the application of Veterans’ preference, the Veteran who is being considered or hired must be qualified. This includes Veterans who are moved “to the top of list” on the basis of their service-connected disability. These Veterans must have received a passing score on the assessment/examination for the position being filled prior to being moved up.
Agencies have discretion in filling their jobs through any number of hiring options and choose the best authority to fit the need of the position being filled, whether it is a special hiring authority for Veterans or individuals with disabilities, or a governmentwide competitive action. Agencies should be mindful of the minimum qualification requirements defined for their open positions to ensure they are attracting job candidates who have the necessary experience and skills to successfully perform the duties of the position. It’s important to note that even when using one of the Veterans hiring authorities, Veterans must meet OPM qualification standards for positions to which the Veterans are appointed, regardless of the hiring authority used.
In addition, careful consideration should be given to the type of assessments being used. An assessment developed from a thorough job analysis should make meaningful distinctions among candidates and identify those who are qualified. Agencies are responsible for ensuring qualified candidates, including Veterans, are appointed to positions.

Q. When can agencies legitimately pass over a Veteran… and do they need to request approval from OPM?

A. Agencies may request to pass over a preference eligible to select a non-preference eligible on the basis of the preference eligible’s qualifications, suitability for federal employment, or medical condition. Agencies have the authority to rule on most pass-over requests. OPM retains the authority to:
• Make medical determinations pertaining to preference eligibles.
• Rule on an agency’s pass-over request of a preference eligible with a compensable service-connected disability of 30 percent or more.
• Make suitability determinations involving material, intentional false statements or deception or fraud in examination or appointment, or refusal to furnish testimony as required by 5 CFR 731.103 (a).
Pass-over procedures apply when filling jobs through the competitive examining process and in the excepted service.

Q. Can you discuss how OPM’s hiring excellence campaign will address Veterans hiring?

A. OPM’s Hiring Excellence Campaign is designed, in part, to educate — or re-educate — human resources professionals and hiring managers on various hiring flexibilities available, including special hiring authorities for Veterans. OPM’s Hiring Excellence Campaign includes an in-depth discussion and focus on how to use/better use the Veterans Recruitment Appointing (VRA) authority, the authority for appointing 30 percent or more disabled Veterans, and the Veterans Employment Opportunities Act (VEOA) authority. To learn more about the Hiring Excellence Campaign, please www.opm.gov/hiringexcellence.