The Office of Special Council has reportedly launched an investigation into allegations officials at the Export-Import Bank sought to illegally remove veteran applicants from consideration for IT positions within its office.
The Export-Import Bank, an executive branch credit agency that loans money to foreign customers to purchase U.S. goods, is required by law to consider veterans' preference for open employment positions before other applicants in its office under Title 5 and Title 38 code.
But internal documents obtained by Federal Times allege that officials, including Chief Information Officer Howard Spira, sought to circumvent the preference process by removing a tranche of veteran applicants for two GS-14 IT specialist infrastructure operations manager positions in order to access other applications they deemed more qualified.
"Complaints of [prohibited personnel practices] are investigated by the Office of Special Counsel, and the Bank has not received notice from the OSC of any formal complaint," said an The Export-Import Bank spokesman.
Eligible veterans can be ranked in the categories of the skills they possess. According to OPM's page on veteran employment, applicants "who meet basic minimum qualification requirements established for the position" are ranked by categories of skill. "Preference eligibles are listed ahead of non-preference eligibles within each quality category," the site said.
A minimum of the top three eligible candidates are presented to agencies with a job opening, the so-called "Rule of Three." However, no agency can pass over a veteran preference-eligible veteran in favor of a lower-ranking, nonpreference-eligible candidate or if they have the same skills. Veterans preference is considered "absolute."
Preference-eligible veterans can only be disqualified once the examining office that provides the list of candidates sustains the hiring agency's objection to them "for adequate reasons." Those reasons can include medical issues, suitability issues or other grounds, but must be approved either OPM or an examining authority. Preference eligible veterans who have applied three times and not been selected for employment with reason are not required to be reviewed by an appointing official.
The positions in question, which were to primarily serve as program managers for the bank's IT operations, were open at various times throughout the spring, summer and fall of 2015. While evaluating candidates and not finding veteran applicants acceptable for the positions, officials allegedly suggested in July that nine veteran applicants should be disqualified from the applicant bank in order to review non-vet applicants.
The question is whether there was enough information to legitimately disqualify the veteran candidates, which seems to be in dispute among staff members at the bank, with some suggesting that removing the applicants would be a prohibited personnel practice violation.
The OSC's office said that it could not comment on or confirm whether there was an investigation, but documents obtained by Federal Times suggest that the office has tasked its Investigation and Prosecution Division to look at the alleged incident.