OPM urges US federal agencies to hire military spouses and ex-prisoners

By on 26/11/2019 | Updated on 24/09/2020
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, around 30% of military spouses are unemployed, and 56% work in roles for which they are overqualified. (Image courtesy: Airman Joshua R. Maund/Joint Base Charleston).

The US government aims to increase diversity within the federal workforce by encouraging human capital officers to take full advantage of two existing hiring programmes that make it easier for military spouses and ex-prisoners to progress through the application process.

Under the Second Chance Act, people who have criminal or arrest records are supported in applying for federal jobs. And a May 2018 executive order encourages agencies to recruit the spouses of active, disabled or deceased service members through specialist hiring authorities. The government hopes that raising awareness of the two schemes will help agencies to fill empty roles and make their workforces more representative of society, according to the Federal Times.

The push to utilise these programmes was discussed at a Chief Human Capital Officers (CHCO) Council meeting last week.

“Diversity and inclusion are topics that are critically important to the communities we serve, because having people that are truly representative of all of America is critically important. So bringing people in off the sidelines, who may not have had as much access to federal jobs, is a critically important part of what we want to do,” Margaret Weichert, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, said at the meeting.

Missed potential

The Second Chance Act aims to reduce reoffending rates by supporting government and not-for-profit organisations to improve outcomes for people leaving prison. The act was introduced in 2008 but was updated last year, and now sees the Office for Personnel Management (OPM) working with the US Courts Probation and Pretrial Services System, the Justice Department and the Bureau of Prisons to help former prisoners to understand the federal hiring process.

President Trump is a vocal advocate of the programme. “We must make sure that Americans returning from prison get a true second chance,” he said at an event in June. “America wins when citizens with a criminal record can contribute to their communities as law-abiding members of our society. When former inmates come home, the single-most important action we can take is to help them find a job they love.

“Too often, former inmates are not considered for jobs even if they’re qualified, rehabilitated, and ready to work,” he added. “And that’s why we’re taking crucial steps to encourage business to expand second chance hiring practices. Our administration is also working to allow rehabilitated citizens with a criminal record to apply for both federal government jobs and affordable housing — something that we were unable to do before.”

Military spouses

Employing military spouses – who are overwhelmingly female – is another focus for chief human capital officers. Tracey Therit, CHCO at the Department of Veterans Affairs, told the CHCO Council that around 30% of military spouses are unemployed, and 56% work in roles for which they are overqualified.  

Therit said that federal hiring managers need to be trained to identify military spouse CVs, and to understand that evidence an individual has taken a step down the career ladder may be a reflection of military spouses’ itinerant lives rather than any judgement on their performance, the Federal Times reported.

Specialist hiring authorities can help military spouses to find work within federal government, but agencies often don’t understand how to use them, the council members heard. To combat this, OPM is working up guidance for agencies.

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.


  1. Jason says:

    Why don’t we just aim for the most qualified?

  2. Q says:

    We have a convicted drug dealer that sold and still sells meth working for a IHS program in Rosebud SD, during working hours selling meth in a GSA Vehicle with weapons in the vehicle….Also another employee that recently assaulted a federal officer on 2 different occasions… was in jail for 2 months pending federal charges and still kept her federal job at IHS. Walked in the door last week like nothing happened, just go back to work. How is that fair?

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