White House officials will boost hiring help for military spouses seeking government jobs through a new executive order unveiled during a presidential visit Friday to Fort Liberty in North Carolina.
The order from President Joe Biden will increase the number of federal jobs for which spouses receive preferential hiring treatment, speed up new savings accounts for military family child care expenses, and mandate a new government-wide plan for ways to help find work for spouses whose careers have been derailed by military moves and demands.
“Supporting families and this executive order are matters of national security,” said First Lady Jill Biden in a Thursday phone call with reporters previewing the announcement. She said troops “question how long they can serve their country when their spouse is unemployed or feels unfulfilled. We can’t ask our service members to choose between their love of country and their love of family.”
The new moves are the latest attempt by federal officials to lower the rate of joblessness among military spouses, estimated to be more than 20% in Defense Department surveys and polls by outside advocacy groups. While veterans have seen their employment rates outperform the general public, military spouses lag severely behind.
About 16,000 military spouses are currently in the federal workforce. While the new actions may only affect a few thousand more, Biden and officials from Joining Forces — the White House initiative focused on military families and veteran transition issues — said they hope the moves will set a model for corporate America to emulate to better aid those job seekers.
The new government-wide plan on hiring and retaining military spouses will be led by the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of Management and Budget. Over the next six months, officials there will work with other agencies to develop plans “for marketing the talent, experience, and diversity of military and veteran spouses” within the federal workforce.
Included are plans to increase the number of federal job postings where preferential hiring rules for military spouses can be used. White House officials did not have an estimate on how many positions that could cover, saying those details will be determined in coming months.
The new presidential order also calls for setting government-wide standards for overseas telework programs, an important option for military spouses relocated when a partner is given an overseas assignment. Advocacy groups have lamented that the current rules governing those posts administered through the Domestic Employee Telework Overseas program are confusing and inconsistent.
Defense officials earlier this year unveiled plans to create flexible savings accounts to help service members pay for child care as a way to save money and provide more daycare options for working military parents. The new order speeds up that process, mandating the accounts be in place by Jan. 1, 2024.
Other provisions in the wide-ranging order include recommendations for expanding training programs for military spouses, increasing paid leave for spouses dealing with change-of-station moves, and improving legal assistance for military families facing unfair employment practices. But those offerings are not mandatory.
Officials said Fort Liberty was chosen as the site for the announcement because the base has one of the largest military spouse populations in the country.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.