Monday, April 7, 2008

Grassley Keeps Dogging White House to Hire Vets

During his 27-year tenure in Washington, D.C., Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has been a tireless advocate and watchdog when it comes to accountability. Whether protecting whistle-blowers or probing televangelists to divulge their tax records, the ranking Republican of the Senate Finance Committee has no reservations about sticking his nose into other people's business, and now he’s set his sights on the White House, urging President George W. Bush to “ramp up his administration’s efforts” in hiring recent combat veterans for federal jobs.

Grassley first assumed the role of headhunter for veterans Feb. 27, when he sent a letter urging the president to establish a goal that 10 percent of new hires in all federal departments and agencies be veterans.

“You proposed in your State of the Union Address to extend federal veterans preference in hiring to the spouses of service members, which is one piece of what needs to be done to lessen the strain on military families that have sacrificed so much for this country,” Grassley wrote. “However, it is essential that federal departments and agencies do a better job of using the authorities given to them by Congress by proactively seeking out and recruiting veterans, particularly those who have served recently in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

To make his case, Grassley cited the most recent data published in fiscal year 2006 by the Office of Personnel Management, which found a wide range of discrepancies among federal departments and agencies. The Air Force led the pack with 46.4 percent of its personnel made up of veterans, while the Federal Trade Commission finished last with 1.6 percent.

“While some disparity is to be expected, the wide variety suggests that some departments and agencies have a much more successful approach to recruiting and hiring veterans,” Grassley wrote.

Grassley asked for and received a written response by April 1 from the Bush administration.

In an attempt to assuage Grassley’s concerns, Karl Zinsmeister, assistant to the president for domestic policy, wrote that the president "wholeheartedly agrees” with Grassley, in that “our nation owes a special debt of gratitude to those who have put themselves in harm’s way on its behalf, and to their families.”

“His State of the Union Address highlighted the need for Federal government hiring preferences to be extended to spouses as well as veterans,” Zinsmeister wrote. “This simple step will help alleviate the lower-than-average employment rates for military spouses.”

Zinsmeister's letter described the administration’s outreach efforts to veterans, namely the Department of Veterans and the Veterans Affairs Nation Veterans Employment Program: “…These multiple efforts have yielded significant results: the percentage of veterans employed in the Federal non-Postal workforce currently 25 percent – well above a 10 percent goal.”

Zinsmeister assured Grassley that the Bush administration is “continuing to implement the recommendations of the Ineragency Task Force on Returning Global War on Terror Heroes, which will likely continue the great success our veterans have had in seeking employment in the Federal government.”

However, Zinsmeister’s response did not assuage the concerns of Grassley, who responded to Bush in a letter Wednesday. “The response lacked much substance and the central request of my letter remains unaddressed.” Grassley wrote. “I am aware of the current figures from the OPM on the employment of veterans in the federal government overall. However, the overall figures hide a wide disparity between various departments and agencies in terms of their success in recruiting and hiring veterans.”

Grassley reiterated his call for a commitment to establish a minimum goal that 10 percent of new hires in all federal departments and agencies be veterans. “More than one-third of federal departments are not currently meeting that goal, according to the most recent data from OPM, and well over half of independent agencies fall short,” Grassley wrote.

Grassley, citing a report, voiced a concern that 18 percent of recent returning combat veterans are unemployed.

Moreover, he criticized Zinmeister’s initial response to his concerns. “I am disappointed that your staff’s response to my previous letter attempted to change the subject and ignore my request,” Grassley wrote. “I ask that you now provide me with a clear response on whether or not you will make such a commitment.”

Grassley end his letter with a new deadline: “As there has already been ample time to consider these issues, I look forward to your reply no later than April 11, 2008.”

Originally posted on "Iowa Independent"

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