The Biden administration unveiled its Government-wide Military-Connected Strategic Plan on Tuesday to better help the recruitment and retention of military spouses in federal jobs.

The Biden administration unveiled its Government-wide Military-Connected Strategic Plan on Tuesday to better help the recruitment and retention of military spouses in federal jobs. SDI Productions / GETTY IMAGES

Biden administration details strategic plan to hire military spouses

Improving the recruitment and retention of spouses of servicemembers has been a bipartisan priority in recent years, as military families report economic precarity as a reason to leave public service.

The Biden administration on Tuesday released its long-awaited plan for federal agencies to improve their recruitment and employment of military spouses, a demographic group plagued by high unemployment and economic uncertainty.

The unemployment rate among the spouses of military service members is 21%, well above the overall unemployment rate of 3.7%, as of January. And one in five military families cite difficulty in finding spousal employment as a reason for considering leaving the armed forces.

Last June, President Biden signed an executive order spurring action on the issue, including requiring agencies to highlight which job openings on USAJOBS are eligible for noncompetitive hiring provisions designed for military spouses and loosening rules governing when employees of domestic federal agencies can telework from outside the United States.

The fiscal 2024 to 2028 Government-wide Military-Connected Strategic Plan, ordered by Biden’s executive order and jointly published by the Office of Personnel Management and Office of Management and Budget, provides a road maps for federal agencies to boost their recruitment and retention of military spouses through a mix of developing new strategies and improving utilization of existing authorities.

“The Military-Connected Plan is the first-ever federal government strategic plan to recognize that military-connected families face many challenges that arise from their selfless service to the American people,” the document states. “[With] a 21% unemployment rate, this talented, diverse and resilient untapped pool of individuals continues to face obstacles to achieve their desired career goals due to the strains of multiple deployments, frequent moves with little control over their geographic location, caring for wounded, ill and injured service members or veterans; time apart for training and more.”

Some provisions of the plan involve relatively simple steps agency HR officials can take, such as considering flexible working arrangements such as telework or remote work when working to retain a military spouse, working with other agencies to find a position for a military spouse who can’t be retained due to their partner’s relocation or change of station, or engaging with nonprofit and military support organizations to promote and market job openings to military families.

“Federal agencies [should] review current policies governing flexible work arrangements for consistent applicability across the agency,” OPM and OMB wrote. “For example, agency policies may encourage managers to review job postings to determine if telework/remote work is appropriate for the position prior to posting the positions. When considering flexible work arrangements, agency policies could remind managers and supervisors to consider the unique needs of military spouses, caregivers and survivors.”

But others will require more legwork. Under the plan, agencies are tasked with coordinating with the State Department as they work to implement Biden’s edict retooling the Domestic Employees Teleworking Overseas program, while OPM plans to revise its annual training for HR representatives and hiring managers to include new information about hiring flexibilities for military spouses.

The roadmap could also lead to the proposal of new legislation. OPM and the Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs departments are all tasked to examine and potentially draft a new bill that would expand eligibility for derived preference, the extension of veterans’ preference to the family member or survivor of a veteran who is unable to take advantage of the law.

Agencies will be expected to incorporate military spouse recruitment goals into their human capital operating plans. And OPM will revise and add questions to the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey to measure military spouses’ experience in government, as well as incorporate data collection on military spouses into its enterprise human resources integration program to help measure agencies’ progress.

“Top leadership support, commitment and accountability in advocating the value and importance of implementing this plan is critical to the agency’s success,” OPM and OMB wrote. “Agencies are encouraged to evaluate current employment policies, practices and procedures to address the goals and actions in this plan.”