Biden’s New Executive Order Improves Employment Opportunities for Military Spouses

Military families experience a permanent change of station (PCS) an average of every 2.5 years, and those transitions are often cumbersome. When it comes to careers, the stop-start nature of PCSing makes professional stability challenging to achieve.

Overall, the unemployment rate among military spouses of 21 percent, which is more than five times the national average of 3.7 percent (as of May 2023). Additionally, according to the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation, the high unemployment rate among military spouses has largely been unwavering, remaining near 22 percent for the past decade.

Among military spouses surveyed by RAND, nearly two-thirds stated that being a military spouse negatively impacted their careers. “Frequent and disruptive moves” was the most widely cited cause, though “childcare difficulties” and “service member absence and the related heavy parenting responsibilities” were also widely stated reasons.

Through an executive order, President Joe Biden aims to bolster economic and employment opportunities for military spouses by addressing some of the challenges above and other critical factors that impact their career options. Here’s an overview of the executive order signing event, key actions within the order, and more.

The Signing of the Executive Order to Improve Employment Opportunities for Military Spouses

On Friday, June 9, 2023, President Biden signed an executive order that improves the employment landscape for military spouses. The signing took place during a trip to Fort Liberty (formerly Fort Bragg), and both he and First Lady Jill Bidden expressed their support for the military community.

“I’ve sat with military families just like yours to learn about their experiences and their challenges,” stated the First Lady while delivering remarks. “Even though every story is unique, again and again, I hear the same thing. That you’re proud of your family’s service, but you miss the careers that you’ve had to leave behind.

That you’re stuck looking for work that doesn’t put your education or experience to good use. That you take the jobs you can get, even if you don’t want them, because, well, there are bills to pay.”

“You told me that the life of a military spouse is rewarding in so many ways, but it isn’t easy.” Later, she added, “We can’t ask our servicemembers to choose between their love of country and their love of family. [President Biden] knows that supporting military spouses is a national security imperative….”

“We’re calling on employers everywhere to do their part,” First Lady Biden stated. “Recruit military spouses. Offer flexible work opportunities so that you can retain their talent, no matter where in the world they are working.”

What the Executive Order Does to Support Military Spouses

The executive order signed by President Biden is multi-faceted, but the core goal is to provide critical support to military families in ways that lead to greater career stability for military spouses. The content of the executive order was largely formed through the Joining Forces initiative, which was spearheaded in 2011 by former First Lady Michelle Obama and First Lady Jill Biden.

In total, there are just shy of 20 actions in the executive order, including those highlighted below.

Develop a Strategic Plan for Hiring and Retaining Military Spouses

President Biden’s order requires the creation of a government-wide strategic plan designed to, according to the released Fact Sheet, “eliminate barriers to the hiring and retention of military and veteran spouses, caregivers, and survivors.” The strategic plan is due within 180 days of the order’s signing and is to include “plans for marketing the talent, experience, and diversity of military and veteran spouses, caregivers, and survivors to agencies.”

Additionally, it requires the establishment of metrics to monitor and define success regarding the recruitment, hiring, and retention of military spouses. This aspect functionally creates avenues for accountability, ensuring federal agencies are actively doing their part to support employment opportunities for military spouses.

Improve the Domestic Employee Teleworking Overseas Program

Through the Domestic Employee Teleworking Overseas (DETO) program, specific federal employees can continue in their roles by working remotely while they’re overseas.

“This executive order encourages all federal agencies to do more to retain military spouses through flexible policies, policies like… improving remote work opportunities for military spouses, including when they’re stationed overseas,” said President Biden during the signing event.

The executive order aims to establish guidelines that enhance military spouse access to the DETO program. This includes the establishment of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of State, specifically regarding military spouse participation.

Increase Childcare Access for Military Families

Access to affordable, reliable childcare is often critical for military spouses to maintain employment. Through the executive order, a Dependent Care Flexible Saving Account program will become available to servicemembers no later than January 1, 2024.

Through that program, servicemembers can set aside up to $5,000 in pre-tax dollars to cover childcare costs.

Additionally, military spouses will have increased opportunities to provide home-based childcare services while living on military installations through streamlined approval pathways. Along with creating jobs, the strategy will also enhance childcare access to other military families.

Expanding Noncompetitive Appointment Authority

Through the executive order, federal agencies will have expanded abilities to hire military spouses using noncompetitive hiring processes. This is functionally an expansion of noncompetitive appointment authority, reducing the amount of competition military spouses would face when attempting to secure certain federal jobs.

Small Business Transition Support

The executive order directs the Small Business Administration (SBA) to develop targeted resources to assist military spouses with relocating a small business they’ve formed. Along with promoting entrepreneurship, the goal is to eliminate operational challenges that a PCS can cause, making long-term small business ownership more practical and plausible.

Advice on Overseas Employment

When a military spouse relocates overseas due to a servicemember’s PCS, that move doesn’t inherently come with rights to work in the new country. Through the executive order, there will be increased access to support and guidance from military legal assistance officers to help military spouses navigate overseas employment challenges.

Transition Support for Military Spouses

When a servicemember leaves the service, they’re not the only one in transition. Through the executive order, President Biden aims to increase access to training and employment opportunities for military spouses as they shift to veteran spouse status.

Training for Human Resources Professionals and Hiring Managers

Through the executive order, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is tasked with providing annual training to human resources personnel and hiring managers, specifically regarding the employment of military spouses, veteran spouses, military caregivers, and survivors. Additionally, a Joining Forces military spouse hiring toolkit is to be published by OPM.

Other Key Points in the Executive Order

The executive order also contains a few other key points. It effectively encourages

  • federal agencies to provide five days of administrative leave to military spouses during a PCS
  • agencies to collaborate to find a new federal employment placement option when a PCS doesn’t allow a military spouse to remain in their current position
  • the Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense to factor in military spouses when evaluating or entering into host nation agreements regarding work options, including private sector employment and self-employment

Why This Executive Order Matters

As mentioned above, more than one-in-five military spouses are unemployed, and employment challenges are often a significant factor in that equation. Additionally, employment challenges experienced by military spouses is a commonly cited reason when a servicemember is considering a separation.

By supporting the employment of military spouses, military families can achieve a new degree of stability. Military spouses can continue careers they love, all while having an increased ability to support their families financially. That doesn’t just provide military spouses with peace of mind; it also helps service members feel more at ease.

In turn, having long military careers becomes more plausible, and that creates a new level of stability for the military itself.

Plus, separating from service doesn’t just impact servicemembers; it represents a new way of life for the entire military family. The executive order provides assistance to military spouses as they transition into veteran spouses, ensuring that the whole household gets the support it needs to start fresh successfully.

President and First Lady Biden are also encouraging the private sector to step up and support military spouses seeking meaningful, stable employment opportunities.

“We’re calling on employers everywhere to do their part,” stated the First Lady during the signing event.

“Recruit military spouses [and] offer flexible work opportunities so that you can retain their talent no matter where in the world they are working. Yes, it’s vital for the future of our nation, but it’s also a great way to find the dynamic talent that your businesses need.”

While the executive order doesn’t explicitly require private sector employers to take specific steps, the First Lady is advocating their involvement. “When [military spouses] get the opportunities that they deserve, our service members can do their duty knowing that those they love most are able to thrive,” she said. “We all benefit.”

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