OPM issues guidelines on military spouse executive order
Telework, leave policies and “compassionate transfers” between agencies should all be utilized to recruit and retain spouses of members of the military and reserve services, officials said.
The Office of Personnel Management on Thursday released new guidance spelling out ways that federal agencies can implement a recent executive order aimed at making it easier for military spouses to have a career in public service.
Last June, President Biden signed an executive order aimed at improving the financial wellbeing of military families in part by making it easier for spouses of service members to maintain a career in the federal government. It tasked OPM and the Office of Management and Budget to devise a governmentwide strategic plan for hiring and retaining military spouses, requires agencies to highlight job openings that are eligible for noncompetitive hiring of military spouses via USAJobs, and revamps the rules around when employees of domestic federal agencies may telework from outside the United States.
The unemployment rate for military spouses is well above the overall unemployment rate in the U.S.—last May, when unemployment was 3.7%, the rate jumped to 21% when looking only at military spouses—in part due to the frequent relocations expected of active duty military families. One in five military families report difficulty in finding spousal employment as a reason for considering leaving the armed forces.
In a memo to agency heads, OPM Director Kiran Ahuja said the government’s forthcoming strategic plan for hiring and retaining military spouses will be released later this year. But in the meantime, she offered a few avenues where agencies can take action now to improve their performance on the issue.
First, Ahuja touted telework and remote work, and her agency’s 2021 guide to the two workplace flexibilities, as key to the effort, given the transient nature of assignments in the military.
“Remote work can help organizations recruit new employees with hard-to-find skillsets or retain current employees who move due to spouse relocation or other life events,” Ahuja wrote. “This governmentwide policy guide provides agencies with practical resources and information to assist them in evaluating how to leverage these tools to meet mission-critical needs and further address the employment challenges associated with frequent relocations of military spouses.”
Ahuja also tasked agencies with establishing policies to allow military spouses to take up to five days of administrative leave in cases where a service member has been ordered to relocate. She also encouraged HR officials to leverage other, already existing, forms of leave to help employees in the midst of an ordered relocation.
“The intent of [the executive order] is to provide agencies with additional workplace flexibilities to assist in the retention of military-connected spouses and caregivers,” she wrote. “Existing workplace flexibilities include annual leave, sick leave, advanced annual leave or advanced sick leave, leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, donated leave under the voluntary leave transfer program, leave without pay, alternative work schedules, credit hours under flexible work schedules, compensatory time off and telework. In addition to these policies, agencies should adopt policies that promote the use of additional workplace flexibilities that will further assist military spouses.”
The memo also proposes a new tool for agencies to help retain military spouses, on top of the existing policies governing reassignments and transfers: developing policies to allow military spouses to more easily transfer to another agency following a relocation.
“Agencies are encouraged to develop agency-specific policies, consistent with merit system principles, to increase retention of military spouses and military caregivers in federal careers who may experience personal challenges that may be accommodated through a workplace flexibility,” Ahuja wrote. “Such policies could include some type of ‘compassionate transfer’ arrangement where agencies establish procedures for facilitating the transfer of employees from one agency to another. This would be especially beneficial to employees who are subject to relocation or participate in geographic rotational assignments.”