The Office of Personnel Management will temporarily drop several geographic restrictions associated with special hiring authorities for military spouses, according to a regulation published in the Federal Register Sept. 20.

“Military spouses are versatile, talented, adaptable, and experienced leaders who strengthen the organizations they join,” OPM director Kiran Ahuja said. “President Biden promised to harness the unique skills and experiences military spouses draw from, and OPM’s regulation expanding the Military Spouse Non-Competitive appointing authority will help military families thrive, and allow federal agencies to hire from this highly qualified talent pool.”

The Military Spouse Non-Competitive appointing authority, which allows agencies to hire military spouses to permanent positions without the usual competition requirements for a federal job, currently requires spouses to have their servicemember partner receive relocation orders authorized for dependent travel in order to be eligible for the appointment authority.

This format was effectively designed to enable military spouses that lose their jobs as a result of their partner’s relocation to have access to federal positions that reflect their professional experience.

But the new guidance allows for any military spouse, regardless of location or relocation status to apply under the hiring authority.

“It removes limitations — such as a relocation requirement, geographic restrictions, and arbitrary quotas — which caused this authority to be underused until now,” wrote Rob Shriver, associate director of employee services at OPM, in a Medium blog post. “As a result, this new regulation means more military spouses can find their place in the federal workforce, and federal agencies have a larger talent pool of highly-qualified people to hire from.”

Expansion of this program has been several years in the making, as both a May 2018 executive order and the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act mandated that OPM make the program available to a wider pool of military spouse applicants.

But according to Shriver, the new regulation also leans on changing work expectations as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Employers across sectors and around the world rely heavily on telework and remote work as a result of the pandemic, and the federal government is no exception,” said Shriver.

“These have become the new ways of working, and OPM is helping agencies use these flexibilities as strategic management tools to better recruit and retain workers. This creates a unique opportunity for military spouses — while military families often have to move frequently, they can access their work remotely and remain in their federal jobs.”

Ahuja specifically pointed to employment of military spouses as a good reason to maintain robust telework programs in the future.

The removal of relocation requirements and unlimited nature of noncompetitive appointments is a temporary change that will expire Aug. 13, 2023, because the provision of the 2019 NDAA allowing for the changes sunsets on that date. Military spouses therefore have just under two years to take advantage of the change.

Military spouses can also use this authority to be hired multiple times until the August 2023 deadline, rather than the one per relocation rule currently in place. Spouses of 100 percent disabled veterans and non-remarried widows or widowers of servicemembers killed while on duty may still only use the authority once.

After Aug. 13, 2023, military spouses may apply for federal jobs under the authority that are not in the vicinity of their relocation, if there are no agencies with available positions in their geographic area.

The new regulation goes into effect Oct. 20.

Jessie Bur covers the federal workforce and the changes most likely to impact government employees.

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