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News Release

April 16, 2002

Contact: Michael Orenstein
(202) 606-2402

OPM Cites Labor Department for Violating Veterans’ Preference Laws;Case Focuses on 1999 Incident Involving Political Appointee

Washington, D.C. – The U.S. Department of Labor has been ordered to give "priority consideration" for future jobs to two veterans after the U.S. Office of Personnel Management concluded the department appeared to give "undue preference" in 1999 to a political appointee in order to facilitate her selection for a competitive service position. Two veterans were eminently more qualified for the job.

The Department of Labor had recently requested OPM’s review of its personnel practices for adherence to all merit system principles and requirements after a General Accounting Office report cited an apparent irregularity. OPM’s Office of Merit Systems Oversight and Effectiveness was instructed by OPM Director Kay Coles James to conduct a thorough study of the case.

"Both Department of Labor Secretary Elaine Chao and I share a commitment to ensure that laws regarding veterans’ preference are adhered to," James said. "This action should send an unequivocal message that if these regulations are ignored, there will be swift and decisive action taken to correct the injustice."James added: "lt is a priority of President George Bush, and it is my personal mission, to see that each and every veteran who wants to serve his or her country as public servants be given the chance to do so. Veterans have served our country with distinction; they have put their civilian lives on hold to defend our democratic principles and protect our friends around the world; and, they have sacrificed in ways we cannot begin to understand. We will uphold the principles of merit and veterans’ preference. We will never let them down."

In a letter delivered today to Labor Secretary Chao, James said the findings of the Office of Merit Systems Oversight and Effectiveness are “very serious” and suggest that Labor officials during the previous Administration may have committed prohibited personnel practices. James said the case is being referred to the Office of Special Counsel for further investigation.

"The corrective actions we are ordering address the need for DOL to modify its human resources accountability system to avoid future situations like the ones described in the report," said James in her letter to the Labor Secretary. "We order that DOL give priority consideration to one veteran with 10-point preference and one veteran with 5-point preference, and four other non-veteran applicants."

The individual at the center of this case received a Schedule C (political) appointment at Labor in 1998. According to OPM, the appointee was immediately detailed to the Office of Small Business Programs in order to become "well qualified" for a position that was later advertised in November 1999. OPM concluded that this position was the same position posted in 1998 and cancelled, even though the vacancy drew several qualified applicants, including two veterans.

"From the totality of the facts gathered in this case," said OPM in the report requested by the Labor Department, "we believe (the earlier vacancy) was canceled because two other applicants -- one a disabled veteran with 10-point veterans’ preference and another with 5-point veterans’ preference -- would have blocked the selection (of the appointee)," violating the intent and spirit of veterans preference laws.

The Department of Labor is not the only agency under scrutiny for improper political conversions. A General Accounting Office report concluded that 17 conversions out of 111 may have been made improperly as a result of political favoritism or preferences. Director James has directed OPM’s Office of Merit Systems Oversight and Effectiveness to continue to investigate those remaining cases. The GAO report, Personnel Practices: Career and Other Appointments of Former Political Appointees, October 1998 to April 2001, was issued in February of this year.

During presidential election periods, OPM reviews conversions of Schedule C and other political appointees. OPM’s most recent review of agencies governmentwide covers the period February 18, 2000, through January 31, 2001.

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OPM oversees the federal work force and provides the American public with up-to-date employment information. OPM also supports U.S. agencies with personnel services and policy leadership including staffing tools, guidance on labor-management relations and programs to improve work force performance.

United States Office of Personnel Management

Theodore Roosevelt Building
1900 E Street, NW, Room 5347
Washington, DC 20415-1400

Phone: (202) 606-2402
FAX: (202) 606-2264

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