Biden issues executive order targeting military spouse employment
Stars and Stripes June 9, 2023
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden took steps Friday to eliminate employment barriers for military-connected spouses, signing an executive order that will impact 16,000 spouses working for the federal government and others including caregivers.
The nearly 20 actions in the order will attempt to put a dent in a 21% unemployment rate among military spouses that has not budged in a decade and address challenges faced by veteran spouses, caregivers and surviving spouses of service members, most of whom are women.
The order includes pushing federal agencies to grant up to five days of administrative leave for military spouses during permanent changes of station, bolstering child care options and directing the government to provide more resources and support for career stability.
Jill Biden, the first lady, said the actions were based on conversations with military spouses and children across the country in the last two years. The order is the latest joint initiative of the National Security Council and Joining Forces, a program founded by Jill Biden and then-first lady Michelle Obama in 2011 to help military families.
The first lady called the order “one of the most consequential executive actions taken to support military spouses who want to continue their careers.”
Biden told reporters that she has heard stories “more times than I can count” of highly educated spouses unable to find a job or giving up a career due to frequent moves. She said she also hears from partners in uniform who question how long they can serve when their spouse is unhappy.
Nearly one in five military families cite challenges with spousal employment as a reason for leaving service, according to the White House.
“We can’t ask our service members to choose between their love of country and their love of family,” Jill Biden said, describing the issue as a matter of national security.
President Biden announced the executive order Friday at Fort Liberty, an Army post in North Carolina with the largest military spouse population. The signing took place against a backdrop of service members in uniform, one of whom was holding a baby.
“As a nation, we have many obligations but we only have one truly sacred obligation,” the president said. “The most sacred obligation America has is to prepare those we send into harm’s way and care for them and their families when they come home or deploy. Today, we’re taking an important step towards fulfilling that obligation.”
Tiffany Zoeller, a five-year military spouse who works for the federal government, said Friday that her career greatly benefited from the Military Spouse Noncompetitive Appointing Authority, which allows military spouses to bypass normal hiring procedures. The executive order aims to increase the number of federal job postings using the authority.
“This support is so important to allow families like mine to thrive while our loved ones are serving in uniform,” Zoeller said.
The order will issue new directives and build on an April order that directed federal agencies to find ways to make child care and long-term care cheaper and more accessible, according to senior administration officials.
Among the new directives is a training requirement for hiring managers and human resources personnel at all federal agencies to help them understand the unique struggles faced by military spouses, including resume gaps, difficulty juggling child care when a service member is training or deployed and providing care to ill or injured partners in the service.
The order also directs federal departments to develop a strategic plan within six months for hiring and retaining military spouses and set government-wide standards to make remote work more accessible to military spouses.
For child care, the order sets a Jan. 1, 2024, deadline for the Defense Department to implement dependent care flexible savings accounts that will allow service members to set aside up to $5,000 in pretax income for child care expenses. It also asks the Pentagon to expand pathways for military spouses to provide home-based child care on military installations.
The Small Business Administration will be tasked with developing resources for spouse entrepreneurs who need to move their business due to a change of station.
Jill Biden said the new initiatives will help “so many military families” and, ideally, serve as a model for the private sector.
“Government can’t solve these problems on its own so we’re asking employers everywhere to join us,” she said. “Recruit military and veteran spouses, caregivers and survivors. They’re skilled and passionate. Offer them flexible and portable opportunities so you can retain their talent. The future of our armed services will be defined by how we support the whole of our military community.”