Veterans

McCain agrees to drop veterans hiring preference changes from NDAA

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain told veterans groups this week that he'll oppose controversial plans to limit federal hiring preferences for individuals with military experience, an advantage advocates argue is critical in helping them find employment.

Earlier this year, Senate lawmakers approved a draft of the annual defense authorization bill which included limiting veterans preference in federal hiring procedures to a one-time use. Veterans who applied for a second federal job or a transfer from their first position would be evaluated by hiring officials as just another civilian federal worker under the plan.

In a letter to the American Legion, McCain -- Arizona's senior Republican senator -- said given the opposition from their leadership and other veterans groups, he will work to remove the provision from the final draft of the authorization bill.

His opposition doesn't guarantee the death of the proposal, but it comes close. The proposal already rankled numerous lawmakers, and McCain's role as the Senate's lead negotiator on the legislation gives him significant influence over the final compromise legislation. 

Veterans make up almost a third of the federal workforce, up significantly from the 26 percent they totaled in fiscal 2009.

Critics of the veterans preference policy -- which include some officials at the Department of Defense -- have argued that the hiring advantage is too generous, all but eliminating applicants without military experience from some federal posts.

But the White House and Congress in recent years have pushed veterans employment as a top priority, and said government agencies should set an example in hiring highly skilled, highly desirable veteran candidates.

The authorization bill, which sets a host of military policy and spending priorities, has been stalled in negotiations between House and Senate officials since August. But leaders from both chambers have said they are still confident a compromise can be reached when lawmakers return to Capitol Hill after the November elections.

Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at lshane@militarytimes.com

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