Increasing interest in government jobs requires creating a cohesive idea of service across all areas of international, government and military roles, according to members of the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service who spoke at a May 19 House Armed Services Committee hearing.
The commission’s sweeping report on improving service in the U.S., which was released in March, detailed changes to both federal and military personnel practices, as well as better educating the public about the ways in which they can and should serve.
“The general purpose of our report is to elevate all forms of service, both the military service that we recognize and is so solid here within the jurisdiction of this committee, as well as the national service — as evidenced by the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps — and then public service, the public servants at the federal, state, local, tribal level,” said Steve Barney, commissioner on the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service.
“By building on that spirit and expectation of service, we believe that we will elevate all forms of service, and it will expose individuals who might not have a family member who has served in our nation’s armed forces to that service opportunity.”
For example, the report recommended creating public service versions of the Reserve Officers Training Corps at universities that allow students to receive financial benefits and additional training in return for a guarantee to work in a government job after they receive their degree.
The report also encouraged military service academies to accept civilian enrollees alongside the students training to become military officers to create a cadre of highly-trained feds ready to support the Department of Defense mission on the civilian side.
“Military service academies and ROTC programs deliver a steady stream of talent into the military’s ranks each year and have proved successful in developing leadership among the military’s junior officer corps,” the report states.
“Creating similar pipelines for the government could help reduce current workforce imbalances and encourage agencies to engage in more long-term, strategic workforce development. Establishing a Public Service Corps alongside ROTC programs and integrating a cohort of public service cadets at military service academies would mitigate the growing civil-military divide among American youth and promote service more broadly.”
Commission members also encouraged a more collaborative advertising and recruitment approach across the different service options.
“We believe that there should be a council on military, national and public service that is something with longevity and sustainability that has responsibility for the integration across service lines to make sure that we are addressing the national security and critical skill needs of the nation. We truly believe that individual should have cabinet rank, ideally, so that there is a seat at the table,” said Commission Chairman Joseph Heck.
If, for example, a young person interested in serving their country shows up at a military recruitment center but would likely be ineligible for military service, Heck said that the recruiter should still be able to offer them information about serving in the Peace Corps or at a government agency.
Those individuals that do enter military, civilian or national service would then be made more aware of the pathways available to them to use their skills in another service area later down the road.
The report also recommended that the federal government alter the way it approaches veterans preference by both extending the time limit on the Veterans Recruitment Authority and restricting veterans preference to only a tie-breaking preference that applies exclusively to veterans entering federal service for the first time.
“What we have found, especially now, is that many service members want to go on to get an education, to use their GI Bill. Once they complete their education, they are no longer eligible to exercise the VRA,” said Heck, adding that the government should shift to “revamping the veterans’ preference to focus more on recently-separated veterans to allow them to enter into public service. Whereas right now, a veteran who enters public service, has got a career in public service can utilize that same preference to apply for another job at a higher pay grade within the public service. So we should refocus it on individuals that are recently separated and use that as an incentive to get them into public service.”
The commission also recommended sweeping changes to the federal hiring and HR process as a whole, including simplifying USAJobs postings and making them more cross-compatible with other job listing sites; ensuring that all federal internships and fellowships are paid and offer a concrete path to full-time employment; streamlining the process for transitioning a fed from one agency to another; and creating a reserve program of cyber talent to call upon in emergency situations.
Many elements for reform in bringing in new or returning talent revolve around expanding the noncompetitive eligibility designation for employees that left public service temporarily to gain outside experience, participated in a federal internship, or spent time in another service avenue like AmeriCorps prior to applying for a federal job.
The report also recommends that agencies be notified when an NCE applicant expresses interest in their job opening, so that they may choose to pursue the potentially faster course of hiring that individual.
But the American Federation of Government Employees worried that greater use of such authorities could have negative consequences:
“Expanded use of noncompetitive hiring authorities perpetuates a closed system of hiring with less diversity and quality in job candidates. The current problems in federal hiring are more attributable to a largely closed system of hiring where managers use direct hire authorities to hire candidates they know rather than competitively selecting from a broad field of qualified candidates. A closed system of non-competitive hiring is not sustainable over the long haul and will only serve to further discourage persons from diverse backgrounds from applying for federal jobs.”
AFGE also opposed recommendations to expand the use of temporary appointments in federal hiring, grant more direct hire authority to agencies so that they can circumvent the competitive hiring process, create a pilot program for an entirely new personnel system outside of the General Schedule, and design a “cafeteria” benefits plan that allows employees to select which insurance and retirement benefits they want to participate in, depending on whether they plan to stay in government long-term or not.
And though many of the commission’s recommendations touch on hotly-debated issues of federal workforce reform, Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif. Introduced legislation earlier this month to implement many of the proposed reforms.
Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.