Military spouses who work for the government or own their own business could see a series of improvements and opportunities under a new executive order by President Joe Biden.
The order aims to increase the number of federal jobs that provide hiring preference to military spouses; improve telework policies and capabilities to give spouses with government jobs flexibility as they move from installation to installation; and bolster resources for military and veteran spouse entrepreneurs to help them maintain their businesses if they move.
Biden was expected to sign the order Friday in a ceremony at Fort Liberty, North Carolina, with his wife, first lady Jill Biden. The Army base was previously known as Fort Bragg but renamed this month as the military scrubs Confederate namesakes.
"For the last two years, we've spoken with spouses across the country about what they need to be able to find a job, keep a job and support their families. And we brought their input back to the White House," said Jill Biden, speaking with reporters Thursday about the executive order. "Across the government, agencies are now working on new ways to help military spouses connect with federal and private-sector careers."
Despite ongoing federal efforts to encourage private industry and communities to hire military spouses, unemployment among the population remains stubbornly high -- 21% in 2021, according to a biennial survey conducted by the Department of Defense. Nationally, the unemployment rate for working-age married women is 2.3%; for men, it's 2.0%.
Barriers to military spouse employment, according to the survey, include permanent change of station moves, needing licenses or credentials in a new state, and child care.
The order contains a mix of directives for the Office of Personnel Management, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Small Business Administration to implement, as well as encouragement for federal agencies and the private sector to boost opportunities for military spouses.
Roughly 16,000 military spouses are employed by the federal government. White House officials said in the call that the order is designed to ensure that those individuals can keep their jobs if they change location and later expand opportunities for others.
It directs OPM and OMB to develop a government-wide strategic plan within 180 days for hiring and retaining military spouses, as well as veteran spouses, caregivers and survivors. It also directs agencies to develop common standards and communications for spouses to participate in the Domestic Employees Teleworking Overseas program, giving them access to employment while stationed abroad, and orders OPM to issue guidance to agencies outlining telework and remote work flexibility for military spouses.
It encourages -- but does not require -- federal agencies to give military spouses up to five days of administrative leave when transferring to a new duty station, and implores them to support military spouses with finding new federal employment at new duty stations if it is impossible for them to keep their old jobs.
It also creates new annual training for federal human resources personnel and hiring managers on hiring military spouses and survivors.
And it sets a deadline for the DoD to implement a new benefit announced in March – flexible spending accounts for child care expenses that will allow service members to set aside $5,000 in pretax income to cover costs.
According to the order, the DoD is required to establish Dependent Care Flexible Savings Accounts by Jan. 1, and it also must expand opportunities for military spouses to provide home-based child care on military installations.
Officials with Joining Forces, the White House effort founded in 2011 by then-first lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden to support military families and veterans, said the Bidens chose to sign the order at the newly renamed Fort Liberty because it is home to the largest population of military spouses across all the services.
Jill Biden said that, while the executive order contains numerous provisions for the federal government, agencies can't "solve these problems on their own." She implored employees everywhere to recruit military and veteran spouses, caregivers and survivors, because "they're skilled and passionate."
"Offer them flexible and portable opportunities so you can retain their talent," Biden said. "The future of our armed services will be defined by how we support the whole of our military community."
– Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Military.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime