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The impact of veterans’ preference on the composition and quality of the federal civil service (Lewis 2013)

Absence of conflict of interest.

Citation

Lewis, G. B. (2013). The impact of veterans’ preference on the composition and quality of the federal civil service. Journal of Public Administration Research & Theory, 23(2), 247-265.

Highlights

  • The study’s objective was to examine the impact the federal practice of giving preference to veterans during the federal employment hiring process had on federal employment.
  • The author used a nonexperimental design to compare federal employment outcomes of veterans and non-veterans, drawing on data from the 1990 and 2000 U.S. Census, the American Community Surveys from 2006–2009, and federal employee personnel records from the Central Personnel Data File from 2000–2009.
  • The study found that the odds of federal employment compared to private-sector employment were 2.7 to 4.4 times greater for veterans than non-veterans. The study also found that veterans advanced slower than non-veterans after 5 and 10 years of employment.
  • The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is low because the author did not ensure that the groups being compared were similar before the intervention. This means we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the veterans’ preference policy in federal hiring; other factors are likely to have contributed.

Intervention Examined

Veterans’ Preference Policy in Hiring for Federal Government Positions

Features of the Intervention

Since the Civil War, the federal government has given preference to veterans in hiring and has periodically strengthened and expanded that preference through legislation. The Veterans’ Preference Act of 1944 specified that veterans receive additional points on civil service examination scores, with veterans with disabilities receiving even more points. Federal hiring processes also used this rank ordering of candidates in the absence of a civil service examination. Subsequent legislation and policies have weakened the veterans’ preference policy. For instance, the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, the Outstanding Scholar Program, and the Federal Career Intern Program, the latter two running from 2000 to 2010, all allowed the federal government to ignore the previously preferential treatment given to veterans in hiring. Veterans currently are eligible for veterans’ preference status based on the period in which they served in the military.

Features of the Study

For this study, people were eligible for veterans’ preference in hiring if they had at least 180 consecutive days of active duty service during wartime periods: after September 11, 2011; from August 2, 1990, to January 2, 1992; from January 31, 1955, to October 15, 1976; from April 28, 1952, to July 1, 1955; or from December 7, 1941, to April 28, 1952. The author used a nonexperimental design to compare the federal employment outcomes of veterans and non-veterans. He conducted two analyses, each examining one employment outcome.

Using a statistical model that accounted for differences in individual background characteristics, the first analysis compared federal government, state and local government, and private employment of veterans and non-veterans in 1990, 2000, and 2006–2009. This comparison used a sample of people ages 21 to 65 employed full time. Among this sample, 91 percent of veterans were male, 73 percent were White, and the average age was 53 with 14.5 years of education. Among non-veterans, 50 percent were male, 66 percent were White, and the average age was 46 with 14.7 years of education. Data came from the 5 percent Public Use Microdata Samples from the 1990 and 2000 U.S. Census and the American Community Surveys from 2006–2009.

The second analysis compared General Schedule (GS) levels over the 10 years from 1999 to 2009 for full-time veteran and non-veteran federal employees. Increases in GS grade reflect job advancement (promotion) in federal employment; the author assumes that two equally qualified people who start at the same GS level should advance to higher GS levels at similar rates on average. The comparison used a sample of full-time federal employees ages 21 to 65. Among all new hires of veterans from 1999 to 2009, 55 percent were White and male, 12 percent were White and female, the average age was 40, and 42 percent had no college education. Among all new hires of non-veterans from 1999 to 2009, 33 percent were White and male, 32 percent were White and female, the average age was 35, and 32 percent had no college education. The author conducted a graphical analysis for people in the four most common entry GS levels (GS 4, 5, 7, and 9). The author did not test the statistical significance of the differences between veterans and non-veterans. Data came from a 1 percent sample of federal employee personnel records from the Central Personnel Data File.

Findings

Employment

  • The study found that the odds of federal employment compared to private-sector employment were 2.7 to 4.4 times greater for veterans than non-veterans, a statistically significant finding.
  • The study also found that veterans advanced in federal jobs (assessed through GS levels) slower than non-veterans after 5 and 10 years of employment. For instance, for people who entered federal employment at the GS-7 level, veterans were on average at level 9.8 after 10 years, compared to level 11 for non-veterans. This means that although they started at the same level at entry, veterans were on average 1.2 GS grades lower than non-veterans after 10 years of federal employment. The author did not test whether these differences were statistically significant.

Considerations for Interpreting the Findings

Although the author accounted for gender, race/ethnicity, and age, the analysis did not account for preexisting differences between the veterans and non-veterans in employment before being hired by the federal government. These preexisting differences between the groups—and not the veterans’ preference policy—could explain the observed differences in outcomes.

Causal Evidence Rating

The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is low because the author did not ensure that the groups being compared were similar before the intervention. This means we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the veterans’ preference policy in federal hiring; other factors are likely to have contributed to the findings.

Reviewed by CLEAR

May 2020

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