Review of Veterans' Preference and the 'Rule of 3'

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2003-08-22.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

United States General Accounting Office
Washington, DC 20548

    August 22, 2003

    The Honorable Kay Coles James
    Office of Personnel Management

    Subject:      Review of Veterans’ Preference and the “Rule of 3”

    Dear Ms. James:

    This is to inform you that the General Accounting Office has completed a review of selected
    agencies’ compliance with veterans’ preference and the “Rule of 3” in federal hiring. This
    review was requested by Congressman Lane Evans, Ranking Minority Member of the House
    Committee on Veterans Affairs, and Senator Tom Daschle. As agreed with the requesters,
    because of your continuing oversight of agencies’ delegated examining units (DEU) and
    ongoing review of veterans’ preference, we are providing you with the results of our review
    for possible follow-up.

    The requesters specifically asked us to review the results of job announcements for fiscal
    year 2001 for five selected agency personnel offices in the Washington Metropolitan Area:
    the National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA) headquarters, NASA’s Goddard
    Space Flight Center, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the
    Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) and the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). As
    agreed with the requesters, we reviewed: (1) advertised full-time positions (both permanent
    and temporary) at the GS-7,9,11,13, and 15 levels as identified by the selected agency,
    (2) the use of multiple certificates in filling these positions, (3) the resulting certificates of
    eligibilities, including how often veterans headed these certificates and were selected, and
    (4) the reported reasons why veterans were not selected if they headed these certificates.

    Our observations may be useful to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) in following
    up on specific cases, as well as more generally in developing and implementing
    governmentwide personnel oversight and evaluation efforts. Moreover, based on our
    understanding of OPM’s guidance to the agencies, OPM would consider the type of issues
    included in our observations when deciding whether more detailed assessments of agency
    actions by OPM oversight teams would be warranted. We have the following specific
    observations about the cases examined.

    •   Multiple certificates were used extensively. Most of the 258 announcements reviewed
        resulted in agencies issuing multiple certificates, including multiple DEU certificates
        and certificates for merit promotion. Multiple DEU certificates were typically issued for
                                                                GAO-03-966R Veterans’ Preference
    multiple vacancies at different grades or locations. In a few cases, multiple DEU
    certificates were issued for the same position at the same grade. In general, agencies
    use of multiple certificates was consistent with OPM guidance. See table 1 in the
    enclosure for total cases reviewed.

•   Selections were made more often from certificates without veterans listed. Specifically,
    of the 214 announcements for which DEU certificates were issued, selections occurred
    more often when the certificates included no veterans than when veterans were on the
    certificates. (See table 2 in the enclosure for results of cases with certificates issued.)
        Out of 134 announcements reviewed with no veterans on the certificates of eligibles,
        90 (67 percent) nonveterans were selected.
        Out of 77 announcements reviewed with veterans on the certificates of eligibilities,
        21 (27 percent) veterans were selected.

•   Agency files suggested a variety of reasons why veterans were not selected from
    certificates. These include those listed below. (See table 2 in the enclosure for more
    information on the reported reasons why veterans were not selected.)
        A nonveteran with a higher score on the DEU certificate was selected.
        A nonveteran was selected from another source, for example, merit promotion,
        noncompetitive appointment.
        The vacancy/certificate was canceled.
        The veteran withdrew his/her name.

•   Many case files were incomplete. Of the 258 announcement cases reviewed, there were
    41 for which we could not determine the disposition of the hiring action. At one agency,
    for 18 out of 78 case files we reviewed the status of the vacancy announcements could
    not be determined. Further, there were 11 additional cases where no case file could be
    located. (See table 3 in the enclosure for more details.) Additionally, in at least one
    location, all the application files fitting our criteria may not have been provided for our
    review. We would suggest that as OPM’s evaluation efforts go forward, the number of
    cases reported in agency case files be compared with the relevant listings in USAJOBS.

•   A few cases may warrant further review by OPM. In cases in which selections were
    made from a certificate listing a veteran on top, the veteran was usually selected.
    However, in a few cases the top-ranked veteran was not selected. For example, at one
    agency the top-ranked veteran was not selected because officials said they were unable
    to contact him. However, the telephone number that the agency noted as being
    disconnected was not the veteran’s listed home number on the application. In addition,
    a note in the file said that the agency tried to contact the veteran with a letter sent via
    Federal Express. The letter was not in the file. In another case, a nonveteran was
    chosen over a veteran with the same score. There was no explanation in the file for this

Page 2                                                     GAO-03-966R Veterans’ Preference
We performed our work on this report from August 2002 through May 2003 in accordance
with generally accepted auditing standards. In addition, we sent this report to the following
agencies for comment: the NASA, HUD, BBG, and DLA. The agencies generally agreed with
our report but provided some technical comments and suggestions that we incorporated
where appropriate. We are sending copies of this report to the Chairman and Ranking
Minority Member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, the Chairman of the Senate
Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Senator Tom Daschle, the heads of the agencies visited
during this review, and other interested parties. This report will also be available on GAO’s
home page at http://www.gao.gov.

I would appreciate your staff keeping me informed of any action they plan to take in
response to this information. The major contributors to this review were Edward
Stephenson, Assistant Director; Charlesetta Bailey, Senior Analyst; and Figen Gungor,
Analyst. If you have any questions, please call me at (202) 512-6806.

Sincerely yours,

J. Christopher Mihm
Director, Strategic Issues


Page 3                                                   GAO-03-966R Veterans’ Preference

Additional Information on Case Files

Table 1: Total Cases Reviewed
                                            NASA    NASA          HUD       BBG       DLA       Total
                                             HQ    Goddard
Number of cases reviewed                        30      67          78       69           14         258
 Cases with insufficient information before      2       0           9        0             0         12
 certificate was issued
 Cases canceled before certificate was           2         3        11        6             0         22
 Cases in which no DEU certificate issued        0         1         0        7             3         10
 Cases resulting in certificate                 26        63        58       56           11         214
Source: NASA headquarters, NASA Goddard, HUD, BBG, and DLA vacancy announcement files for fiscal year

Table 2: Comparison of Certificates with Veterans and Nonveterans
                                            NASA      NASA        HUD       BBG       DLA       Total
                                             HQ      Goddard
Number of announcements with certificate
   Veteran is top candidate                              6        10          26       16       6     64
   Veteran is not the top candidate                      1         2           5        4       1     13
   No veterans on certificate                          19         51          27       33       4    134
   Total announcements with certificate                26         63          58      56a     11    214a
Results of certificates with veterans:                 (7)      (12)        (31)     (20)     (7)   (77)
   Top veteran selected                                  0         6           5        3       3     17
   Other veteran selected                                0         1           1        2       0      4
   Nonveteran selected from certificate                  0         0           6        6       0     12
   Selection from another source                         5         0           6        6       3     20
   Cases canceled                                        2         1          10        3       0     16
   Veteran withdrew name                                 0         2           0        0       0      2
   Cases with insufficient information                   0         2           3        0       1      6
Results of certificates with nonveterans:            (19)       (51)        (27)     (33)     (4)  (134)
   Nonveteran selectedb                                16         40          19       26       3    104
   Cases canceled                                        0         6           2        3       0     11
   Cases with insufficient information                   3         5           6        4       1     19
Source: NASA headquarters, NASA Goddard, HUD, BBG, and DLA vacancy announcement files for fiscal year
         2001 and agency officials.
  For three vacancy announcements, candidates’ status was not noted in files.
  Nonveterans selected included selections from other sources: NASA HQ,7; BBG, 6; and DLA, 1.

Table 3: Total Cases with insufficient information
                                             NASA      NASA       HUD       BBG       DLA       Total
                                              HQ      Goddard
Total cases with insufficient information        7          7       18        7             2         41
Source: NASA headquarters, NASA Goddard, HUD, BBG, and DLA vacancy announcement files for fiscal year


Page 4                                                        GAO-03-966R Veterans’ Preference
This is a work of the U.S. government and is not subject to copyright protection in the
United States. It may be reproduced and distributed in its entirety without further
permission from GAO. However, because this work may contain copyrighted images or
other material, permission from the copyright holder may be necessary if you wish to
reproduce this material separately.
                         The General Accounting Office, the audit, evaluation and investigative arm of
GAO’s Mission            Congress, exists to support Congress in meeting its constitutional
                         responsibilities and to help improve the performance and accountability of the
                         federal government for the American people. GAO examines the use of public
                         funds; evaluates federal programs and policies; and provides analyses,
                         recommendations, and other assistance to help Congress make informed
                         oversight, policy, and funding decisions. GAO’s commitment to good
                         government is reflected in its core values of accountability, integrity, and

                         The fastest and easiest way to obtain copies of GAO documents at no cost is
Obtaining Copies of      through the Internet. GAO’s Web site (www.gao.gov) contains abstracts and full-
GAO Reports and          text files of current reports and testimony and an expanding archive of older
                         products. The Web site features a search engine to help you locate documents
Testimony                using key words and phrases. You can print these documents in their entirety,
                         including charts and other graphics.

                         Each day, GAO issues a list of newly released reports, testimony, and
                         correspondence. GAO posts this list, known as “Today’s Reports,” on its Web
                         site daily. The list contains links to the full-text document files. To have GAO e-
                         mail this list to you every afternoon, go to www.gao.gov and select “Subscribe to
                         e-mail alerts” under the “Order GAO Products” heading.

Order by Mail or Phone   The first copy of each printed report is free. Additional copies are $2 each. A
                         check or money order should be made out to the Superintendent of Documents.
                         GAO also accepts VISA and Mastercard. Orders for 100 or more copies mailed to
                         a single address are discounted 25 percent. Orders should be sent to:

                         U.S. General Accounting Office
                         441 G Street NW, Room LM
                         Washington, D.C. 20548

                         To order by Phone:    Voice:     (202) 512-6000
                                               TDD:       (202) 512-2537
                                               Fax:       (202) 512-6061

To Report Fraud,
                         Web site: www.gao.gov/fraudnet/fraudnet.htm
Waste, and Abuse in      E-mail: fraudnet@gao.gov
Federal Programs         Automated answering system: (800) 424-5454 or (202) 512-7470

                         Jeff Nelligan, Managing Director, NelliganJ@gao.gov (202) 512-4800
Public Affairs           U.S. General Accounting Office, 441 G Street NW, Room 7149
                         Washington, D.C. 20548