A Crazy Idea Regarding Roosevelt Scholars, Federal Employment and Educating Veterans

There has been a lot of buzz around Washington, D.C. lately regarding creative ways to entice young Americans to choose to work for the federal government, as evidenced by The Washington Post recently running this article in Joe Davidson’s “Federal Diary” column and E.J. Dionne Jr.’s op-ed piece.  According to an ongoing survey of federal hiring needs conducted by Partnership for Public Service , Uncle Sam needs to hire more than 270,000 workers for “mission-critical” jobs over the next three years.  This demand is created in part by a desire to return some jobs currently performed by contractors back to government workers, but primarily by the large number of federal workers reaching retirement age.

A Congressional Budget Office (CBO) Study published in March 2007 entitled “Characteristics and Pay of Federal Civilian Employees” reported that in 2005 the average permanent full-time civilian federal employee was 47 years old.  The average federal worker in that group retires at age 59.  In the same study the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) reported that it expected a peak in federal retirements to occur between 2008 and 2010.   It is reasonable to assume that this expected peak has been delayed by a few years because of the ongoing recession, but it will come eventually.

So, what can the Federal Government be doing now prepare to replace all of those people? The government competes with the private sector for the same applicants, and oftentimes the private sector wins because it offers a better salary or more (perceived) prestige.  And the process for applying for a federal job is so complicated (compared to private industry) and takes such a long time that applicants with high demand skills feel the road to a career in the private sector is just easier to pursue.

To make federal employment more appealing to young Americans, Representatives David Price (D-N.C.) and Michael Castle (R-Del.) introduced the House version of a bill called the Roosevelt Scholars Act in July 2009.  In November 2009 Senators George Voinovich (R-OH) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) submitted the Senate version.   Both versions of the Roosevelt Scholars Act would provide scholarships to students in skilled fields such as engineering, information technology, foreign languages and public health in exchange for a federal government service commitment of three to five years. Both versions of the bill would establish a small foundation to administer the scholarships, and provide tuition and living expenses of up to $60,000 per year.  The primary difference between the two versions is that the Senate version covers both undergraduate and graduate (masters, law and doctoral) students, where the House version applies only to graduate students.

The Roosevelt Scholars Act is aimed at those pursuing education that is directly related to one or more occupational areas designated as “mission critical”.  The top areas where the government is hiring include medical and public health, security and protection, compliance and enforcement, legal, and administration/program management.  Go to Where the Jobs Are 2009 to see additional federal agency hiring projections by professional field (IT, education, engineering, etc.).

Students who receive Roosevelt scholarships would be required to intern with a Federal Agency while pursuing their degree.  After completing their degree, the Federal Agency can use a Special Hiring Authority to make a non-competitive appointment for a period not to exceed 2 years.  After which, the appointee can be converted to career or career-conditional employment to serve out the remaining 1-3 years of the commitment.  Uncle Sam hopes that at the end of the commitment the scholar’s experience will have been so fantastic and rewarding that he/she will want to stay with the government for a longer career.

It sounds like a great idea.  It should – the Roosevelt Scholars Act is modeled after the Reserve Officer Training Program (ROTC), a college-based commissioning program which has been highly successful in producing roughly 40% of the officers serving in todays military.

So, here is my crazy idea – why not modify/amend the Roosevelt Scholars Act to create a special avenue for military veteran scholars?  The selection process to become a Roosevelt Scholar would work the same and the veteran would have the same 3-5 year federal commitment after completing his/her degree.  The bonus is that the service member already has use of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill to cover tuition, books, and living expenses.  And, if the veteran chooses a college that participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program, which is designed to supplement the difference between undergraduate and graduate tuition costs, much if not all of the costs of the graduate degree will be covered. In this way, all parties win:

  • The veteran gets an (advanced) degree and a federal job;
  • The Theodore Roosevelt Scholarship Foundation (which would administer the program) retains the money which can then be used to fund more scholarships for non-veteran students; and,
  • The Federal Government gets great quality hires AND has an additional way to support the new Executive Order #13518 (“Employment of Veterans in the Federal Government”) AND can accept an unlimited number of veterans into the program because it isn’t restricted by the amount of money in the foundation available to fund scholarships.

If you think this is a good idea contact your congressional representative and/or senator and let them know you’d like to see the bill updated to better support veterans.

If you want to check on the status of either version of this bill go to The Library of Congress’ THOMAS search engine for the Bill Summary and Status Search of the 111th Congress (2009-2010) and type in “Roosevelt scholars”.  THOMAS, named after Thomas Jefferson, is designed to make federal legislative information freely available to the public.