Review of Veterans' Preference and the 'Rule of 3'

GAO-03-966R: Published: Aug 22, 2003. Publicly Released: Aug 22, 2003.

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J. Christopher Mihm
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The General Accounting Office has completed a review of selected agencies' compliance with veterans' preference and the "Rule of 3" in federal hiring. This review was requested by Congressman Lane Evans, Ranking Minority Member of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, and Senator Tom Daschle. As agreed with the requesters, because of continuing oversight of agencies' delegated examining units (DEU) and ongoing review of veterans' preference, we are providing the results of our review for possible follow-up. The requesters specifically asked us to review the results of job announcements for fiscal year 2001 for five selected agency personnel offices in the Washington Metropolitan Area: the National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA) headquarters, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) and the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). As agreed with the requesters, we reviewed: (1) advertised full-time positions (both permanent and temporary) at the GS-7,9,11,13, and 15 levels as identified by the selected agency, (2) the use of multiple certificates in filling these positions, (3) the resulting certificates of eligibilities, including how often veterans headed these certificates and were selected, and (4) the reported reasons why veterans were not selected if they headed these certificates.

Multiple certificates were used extensively. Most of the 258 announcements reviewed resulted in agencies issuing multiple certificates, including multiple DEU certificates and certificates for merit promotion. Multiple DEU certificates were typically issued for multiple vacancies at different grades or locations. In a few cases, multiple DEU certificates were issued for the same position at the same grade. In general, agencies use of multiple certificates was consistent with the OPM guidance. Selections were made more often from certificates without veterans listed. Specifically, of the 214 announcements for which DEU certificates were issued, selections occurred more often when the certificates included no veterans than when veterans were on the certificates. Out of 134 announcements reviewed with no veterans on the certificates of eligibles, 90 (67 percent) nonveterans were selected. Out of 77 announcements reviewed with veterans on the certificates of eligibilities, 21 (27 percent) veterans were selected. Agency files suggested a variety of reasons why veterans were not selected from certificates, including: (1) a nonveteran with a higher score on the DEU certificate was selected; (2) a nonveteran was selected from another source, for example, merit promotion, noncompetitive appointment; (3) the vacancy/certificate was canceled; and (4) the veteran withdrew his/her name. Of the 258 announcement cases reviewed, there were 41 for which we could not determine the disposition of hiring action. At one agency, for 18 out of 78 case files we reviewed the status of the vacancy announcements could not be determined. Further, there were 11 addtional cases where no case file could be located. Additionally, in at least one location, all the application files fitting our criteria may not have been provided for our review. We would suggest that as OPM's evaluation efforts go forward, the number of cases reported in agency case files be compared with the relevant listings in USAJOBS. A few cases may warrant further review by OPM. In cases in which selections were made from a certificate listing a veteran on top, the veteran was usually selected. However, in a few cases the top-ranked veteran on top, the veteran was usually selected. For example, at one agency the top-ranked veteran was not selected because officials said they were unable to contact him. However, the telephone number that the agency noted as being disconnected was not the veteran's listed home number on the application. In addtion, a note in the file said that the agency tried to contact the veteran with a letter sent via Federal Express. The letter was not in the file. In another case, a nonveteran was chosen over a veteran with the same score. There was no explanation in the file for this action.

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