Obama to Federal Agencies: Hire More Unemployed People, Debtors

OPM Director Katherine Archuleta issued a memo. OPM Director Katherine Archuleta issued a memo. Kris Tripplaar

President Obama wants to help unemployed Americans find jobs, and he wants to ensure federal agencies are open to hiring them.

The White House rolled out a series of actions Wednesday to follow up on a January executive order aimed at helping the long-term unemployed back into the economy. The announcement included $170 million in grants from the Labor Department to train unemployed individuals and match them to jobs, partnerships with private companies aimed at hiring job seekers and a memorandum from the Office of Personnel  Management instructing agencies on how they can recruit the long-term unemployed.

OPM Director Katherine Archuleta in the memo told agencies not to discriminate against the unemployed or those in tough financial straits.

“Applicants should not face undue obstacles to federal employment because they are unemployed or face financial difficulties through no fault of their own,” Archuleta wrote.

Specifically, OPM said agencies should not deny employment based on an applicant’s extended stint of unemployment and should consider whether applicants with financial delinquencies were personally responsible for a failure to make payments. Even if the applicant was personally at fault for the delinquency, agencies should determine when the debt was incurred, whether there is intent to pay it back and “societal conditions” that may have contributed to the failure to pay it.

OPM provided several examples for federal recruiters to help them determine when to avoid disqualifying applicants, such as individuals:

  • Laid off in a “rapidly changing field” who have been unemployed for a year, but sought continuing education during the period of unemployment;
  • Who suffered a workplace injury and received workers’ compensation, but still fell behind on mortgage payments; or
  • Incurred credit card debt while trying to support themselves in college, so long as they have set up a realistic payment plan.

The human resources agency also released a “mythbuster” fact sheet, spelling out the ways in which the federal government prevents unemployed applicants from facing discrimination.

“As the Chief HR officer for the federal government, I take very seriously our responsibility to be a model employer,” Archuleta said. “It is crucial for this administration that these Americans receive fair treatment and consideration for employment by federal agencies.”

Additionally, OPM said, hiring managers should not even ask about unemployment or financial hardships until they have assessed a candidate’s qualifications.  Agencies should not make recent employment a prerequisite for any position or review applicants’ federal debt before they are a final candidate or receive a conditional offer.

Existing strategies to recruit “diverse applicant pools” -- such as social media, relationships with state employment offices and community organizations, consideration of “non-traditional students” and inclusion of language that the federal government does not deny employment for résumé gaps in job postings -- can help attract unemployed individuals, OPM said.

Archuleta advised agencies to train all hiring officials and HR professionals on the requirements of the memo within six months. 

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