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Better Economic Opportunities for Military Spouses Focus of New Executive Order

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (June 09, 2023) -- The White House announced today a new executive order aimed at strengthening economic opportunities for military and veteran spouses, caregivers and survivors.

President Biden will sign that order today at Fort Liberty, North Carolina, currently home to the largest number of military spouses in the U.S. military. The president will be accompanied to Fort Liberty by First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, who said the executive order is one of the "most consequential" executive actions the Biden administration has taken to support military spouses.

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"We're asking agencies to make it easier for spouses employed by the federal government to take administrative leave, telework and move offices," she said. "We're creating resources to support entrepreneurs. And the executive order helps agencies and companies retain military spouses through telework or when they move abroad."

The new order doesn't just support the spouses of service members, Biden said. It also aims to support veterans' spouses, caregivers and survivors.

"The ripple effects of service do not end when uniforms are put away," she said. "This will help so many families. The federal government can't solve these problems on its own. So we're asking employers everywhere to join us: 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 executive order, in the works now for more than a year, includes a variety of actions to improve hiring and retention of military and veterans' spouses in the federal government workforce, helping military and veteran spouses obtain employment outside of the federal government, and improving access to childcare for military families, said Cara Abercrombie, who serves as both deputy assistant to the president and the National Security Council's coordinator for defense policy and arms control.

Among the primary actions in the EO is a directive by the president for development of a governmentwide strategic plan on the hiring and retention of military and veteran spouses, caregivers and survivors. The strategy must include plans for marketing the talent, experience and diversity of military and veteran spouses, caregivers and survivors to agencies and encourage agencies to set benchmarks to improve performance and accountability.

The EO also directs federal agencies to list military spouse non-competitive appointment authority in federal job postings, Abercrombie said. This "will allow departments and agencies to more rapidly hire qualified military spouses when filling positions."

Also, a key part of the EO is a focus on increased telework options for military spouses in order to retain a job in the United States, even while having been deployed overseas with their military spouse.

"It directs agencies to set governmentwide standards for the agencies to make remote work options more accessible to military spouses residing with their service members stationed overseas," Abercrombie said. "It outlines telework and remote work flexibility for military spouses and caregivers, conveying the importance of retention efforts of this resilient community of federal employees."

Childcare is also a key component of the EO, Abercrombie said. The EO directs the implementation of dependent care flexible saving accounts for service members, as well as expansion of pathways for military spouses to provide home-based childcare on military installations.

Education for hiring managers is also a component of the EO, to ensure that those who do hiring understand the challenges faced by military and veterans' spouses, caregivers and survivors.

"I want to underscore the importance of this last point, the training requirements," Abercrombie said. "My team and the Joining Forces team have heard from stakeholders that hiring managers and supervisors in both the federal government and the private sector may lack an understanding of the challenges faced by military families."

Such challenges include why a military spouse might have gaps on a resume or why it might be a challenge to get childcare while a service member is deployed.

"The goal ... of the training is to help civilians, especially those in the human resources or hiring roles, to understand this community, the needs of military spouses and caregivers, the diversity and adaptability of this population, and the skill that they bring to the workplace," Abercrombie said.

Biden said the content of the executive order has been influenced by her own work within Joining Forces -- the White House initiative she spearheaded with former First Lady Michelle Obama in 2011 -- that focuses on providing support to military families, caregivers and survivors of the U.S. military.

For the last two years, she said, Joining Forces has talked with military spouses across the country about what is needed to help them find a job, keep a job and support their families. That information was brought back to the White House and information gained there was used to develop the executive order.

"[The order is] filled with solutions inspired directly by the conversations Joining Forces had with the military-connected spouses and children, because these families know what they need," Biden said.

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