A new executive order signed Wednesday afternoon by President Donald Trump adds new accountability measures to hiring opportunities for military spouses in the public sector, allowing the government to better track its success at hiring spouses and promoting greater awareness of existing opportunities.
In a call with reporters Wednesday morning, a senior White House official said the new order would direct agencies to make an existing non-competitive hiring authority provision for military spouses available in their job announcements "to the greatest extent possible with agency hiring needs."
The hiring authority allows military spouses to be appointed to certain jobs without having to go through the typical competitive hiring process.
"We have looked over the last few years at the number of military spouse hiring opportunities and the number of spouses who have been hired, and we think we can do better," the official said. "We expect [the change] to increase the opportunity significantly and result in more military spouses hired."
The new executive order also directs the White House Office of Personnel Management to educate agencies about the hiring authority and how to increase its effective use, and to increase awareness among military spouses about available opportunities, the official said.
It also builds in reporting measures, requiring agencies to make annual reports regarding the number of jobs made available under the non-competitive hiring authority for military spouses, the number of military spouses who applied for jobs and the number hired. An annual report to the president will provide updates on the implementation of the executive order and make recommendations about how to improve further on military spouse employment opportunities.
Jennifer Korn, a special assistant to the president, told reporters the issue is personal to her as a Marine Corps spouse who at times in her career had been unemployed or underemployed as a result.
"It is really important that the commander-in-chief not only have the backs of our service members but also have the backs of our military spouses," she said. "Having a very healthy military family is important to our national security and also retention in the military. As a federal government, if we are going to be working with the private sector and asking others to hire military spouses, we need to lead by example, and that executive order today does just that."
Thanks to awareness and various initiatives, Korn said, veteran unemployment had dropped from a high of 16 percent to a current 16-year low of just 4 percent. But, she said, military spouse unemployment remains high, at levels of 16 to 20 percent. And reported spouse underemployment, she said, is at 30 percent or higher.
Officials declined to cite specifics on the effectiveness of the non-competitive hiring authority to date, but said there is room for improvement.
"The [Defense Department] has done pretty well," an official said. "Some of other departments and agencies are not as good as they could be."
Korn said she had traveled the country to consult with military spouses and affiliated organizations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce initiative Hiring Our Heroes, to learn how to best improve policy. The new order, she said, has champions in Trump's daughter, Ivanka Trump, and Counselor to the President KellyAnne Conway.
Both Ivanka Trump and Conway, officials said, are expected to release statements supporting the new executive order.