Veterans Preference, Federal Hiring and Outstanding Scholars

Does the outstanding scholar program supersede veterans preference requirements? The MSPB says it does not.

Veterans preference is supported by a majority of our readers according to a recent poll on the subject but it is controversial.

Some people don’t like veterans preference, or at least their understanding of it, because it may work to the benefit of those who have served in the nation’s military to the detriment of those who have not been in the US Armed Forces.

At the same time, there is considerable dissatisfaction with how the federal government hires new employees. Steve Nelson, Director of Policy Evaluation for the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), highlighted the problem in a recent issue of the MSPB newsletter. And our readers do not think the federal hiring program works well either.

So, when the subject of veterans preference is mixed with the decision to hire or not hire an applicant for federal employment, the subject can be volatile.

And, unlike most of us, the MSPB is in a position to influence how the federal hiring process works.

In a recent decision, the MSPB may be addressing the problem of how to hire new federal employees.

As we have pointed out in an earlier article, many agencies use the outstanding scholar program to hire new feds. There is some doubt the program actually results in hiring the best people but the process is relatively quick and easy and these things go in a large bureaucracy.

At least it used to be relatively quick and easy. That may not be the case in the future though.

The MSPB has told the Department of Agriculture to redo a personnel action in which the agency hired a new employee under the outstanding scholar program. A veteran who was not selected for the job was not happy with this event and went to the MSPB.

David Dean is a veteran with a 30% disability who applied for a job with USDA in Columbia, South Carolina. The agency selected a person who did not have veterans preference. Dean alleged that the agency hired a non-veteran under the outstanding scholar program without seeking or receiving permission from the Office of Personnel Management. The argument made by Dean was that the agency was using this as a way to get around the veterans preference requirement.

The only basis for ignoring the veterans preference requirement is the consent decree issued as a result of a lawsuit in the 1981 case of Luevano v. Campbell. The MSPB ruled in the Dean case that the consent decree was not sufficient basis to frustrate the intent of Congress in giving veterans a preference in the federal hiring process.

The Luevano case was filed by “a nationwide class of blacks and Hispanics” against all federal agencies. The result of the suit was to eliminate the exam used to hire new federal employees. The intent of the decree was not to override the veterans preference granted by Congress. That could be done by Congressional action but it has not been done as of this date.

In short, MSPB appears to have taken the bull by the horns and brought up a host of issues for consideration by OPM and Congress. It may eventually improve the federal hiring lottery. In the meantime, federal human resources offices have a new twist in the hiring process as a result of the MSPB’s decision in the Dean case.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47