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Veteran Federal Employment: OPM and Agencies Could Better Leverage Data to Help Improve Veteran Retention Rates

GAO-20-592 Published: Jul 22, 2020. Publicly Released: Aug 21, 2020.
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Fast Facts

A 2009 executive order called for actions to increase veteran employment in the federal government. But concerns have been raised about the retention and job satisfaction of newly hired veterans.

We found that, compared to similar non-veterans, veterans:

Left government jobs at a higher rate (6.7% vs. 5%) between FYs 2014-2018

Resigned 1.6 times more often

Left in their first 5 years at higher rates (18.7% vs. 11.1%)

Were less satisfied with their relationship with supervisors and the meaningfulness of work

We recommended that OPM help agencies analyze employee feedback data to identify strategies to boost veteran retention.

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What GAO Found

From fiscal years 2014 through 2018, veterans left federal government jobs at a higher rate than non-veterans, according to GAO analysis of Office of Personnel Management (OPM) data. After controlling for key demographic and employment factors, GAO estimated that on average, 6.7 percent of veterans left the federal government compared to 5 percent of similar non-veterans. While veterans primarily left to retire, veterans resigned from federal service at 1.6 times the rate of similar non-veterans. GAO also estimated that 18.7 percent of veterans resigned within their first 5 years of federal service compared to 11.1 percent of similar non-veterans. Each of the 24 Chief Financial Officer Act agencies experienced higher rates of attrition among veteran employees than similar non-veteran employees.

GAO identified six workplace factors associated with veterans' intentions to leave federal service. These factors—or drivers of retention—are based on an analysis of data from the OPM Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (OPM FEVS), a tool for collecting employees' perceptions of their federal work experiences.

Key Workplace Factors Associated with Veterans Considering Leaving Federal Service

Key Workplace Factors Associated with Veterans Considering Leaving Federal Service

More than half of both veterans and non-veterans reported being satisfied with five of the six factors. More than half of both veterans and non-veterans reported not being satisfied with opportunities for advancement at their agencies. Overall we found that veterans were slightly less satisfied with these factors than non-veterans, which could in part explain the higher attrition rates for veterans. Improvements in employee satisfaction in these areas may lead to higher retention rates.

Performing analyses similar to those in this report could help agencies identify and strengthen strategies for improving veteran retention. However, challenges exist for agencies using OPM FEVS data on their own to identify drivers of retention among their workforces. OPM could help agencies with these analyses so they could use data to address veteran retention issues and other workforce challenges.

Why GAO Did This Study

Approximately 200,000 servicemembers transition from military service to civilian life each year, according to the Department of Defense. A 2009 executive order created a government-wide initiative to increase veteran federal employment. While veteran hiring has increased since 2009, OPM has raised concerns about retention and job satisfaction of newly hired veterans.

GAO was asked to analyze veteran federal employment data. This report analyzes (1) recent trends in attrition for veterans and non-veterans, and (2) key factors that may affect a veteran employee's decision to leave federal employment. GAO conducted a statistical analysis comparing attrition for veterans and similar non-veterans for fiscal years 2014 through 2018 (the most current data available). GAO conducted a literature review to identify potential drivers of retention and used regression methods to analyze OPM FEVS data to identify key drivers for veterans and non-veterans. GAO also interviewed OPM officials and veteran service organizations.


GAO recommends that OPM assist the 24 CFO Act agencies by using OPM FEVS data to analyze the key drivers of veterans' retention. OPM partially concurred with the recommendation because of concerns about its scope and, in response, we modified it.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Office of Personnel Management The Director of the Office of Personnel Management should assist the 24 CFO Act agencies by using OPM FEVS data to analyze the key drivers of retention for veterans in the agencies' workforces to identify strategies for improving veteran retention. OPM should also be available to non-CFO Act agencies that request assistance with the veteran retention analysis.
Closed – Implemented
Consistent with GAO's recommendation, in March 2021, OPM's Veterans Programs Office provided more resources and training opportunities to agencies Veteran Employment Program Offices (VEPOs) to help support agency veteran employment efforts. The VEPOs share responsibility for enhancing employment opportunities for veterans within their agencies in accordance with E.O. 13518, Employment of Veterans in the Federal Government. Specifically, OPM's Veterans Program Office analyzed and used the governmentwide FEVS data on workplace factors associated with veterans' intentions to leave federal service. The office provided technical assistance and worked with each of the six CFO agencies' VEPOs that were identified as having exceeded the 10% percent attrition rate, as highlighted in GAO's report. Four of the six agencies -- Health and Human Services (HHS), Small Business administration (SBA), United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and Department of Interior (DOI) -- accepted OPM's recommendation and used GAO's driver framework to implement specific strategies to address their retention issues. For example, OPM reported in January 2023 that HHS created a Veteran Employee Engagement Index "heat map" to see which operating divisions were doing well and where there was a need for improvement. SBA designed competency models, learning roadmaps, and implemented skills assessments for mission critical occupations, core, and leadership skills to improve knowledge sharing and learning activities/training opportunities for SBA's workforce. USAID, for example, agreed to identify veteran responses in FEVS and other agency surveys to provide a better understanding of veteran retention issues. DOI reported taking steps to reduce veteran employment hiring barriers and increase outreach efforts to military communities and veterans' organizations.

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