By Steve Vogel
The White House's personnel chief is calling on senior federal executives to ensure that National Guard and Reserve troops returning to their civilian federal jobs are not penalized for their military service.
"This Administration has zero tolerance for violations of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act," John Berry, director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, said in a memo last week to the President's Management Council and the Chief Human Capital Officers Council.
The Washington Post reported in February that the federal government is the biggest violator of the USERRA law, which says that service members cannot be denied jobs or otherwise be penalized by employers because of their military obligations. In fiscal 2011, more than 18 percent of the 1,548 complaints of violations of that law involved federal agencies, according to Labor Department figures.
"We must continue to pay close attention to our returning Reserve and Guard population and ensure we manage their reintegration and maintain their professional trajectory," Berry said.
In separate remarks, Berry said that recent Bureau of Labor Statistics figures showing a drop in unemployment among veterans in the first months of 2012 are encouraging. The BLS reported in March that unemployment among veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars stood at 12.1 percent in 2011 but had dropped to 7.6 percent in February.
"We still have work to do, but that trajectory shows the impact we can have when we focus our efforts and work together," Berry told a leadership conference in New York last week.
However, a survey released last week by the group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America found that unemployment among its members stood at 16.7 percent.
The survey "shows that unemployment for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is significantly higher than reported by the government," said IAVA director Paul Rieckhoff, who added that the results "should be a wake-up call for all Americans."