Will Congress Finally End the ‘180-Day Rule’ for DoD Civilian Hires?

Will Congress Finally End the ‘180-Day Rule’ for DoD Civilian Hires?
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Highly skilled servicemembers about to leave uniform still must wait half a year before applying for DoD civilian positions, and frustrated DoD hiring managers still must struggle to fill these roles from other sources … unless Congress acts as part of ongoing negotiations that will create the must-pass defense bill.


The bipartisan Retain Skilled Veterans Act  (H.R. 939 | S. 334) will be considered as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) again this year. Provisions from the bill are included in the House version of the NDAA, like last year, but not in the Senate version. The House and Senate will reconcile differences in the NDAA through a conference, though elections could delay that process.


[TAKE ACTION: Ask Your Lawmakers to Support the Retain Skilled Veterans Act]


Repealing the “180-day rule” is at the heart of this issue. This provision forces skilled transitioning servicemembers to wait six months after leaving service to apply to a DoD civilian position through the USAJOBS website. Worse yet, these transitioning members are coached to apply for DoD positions by their transition assistance adviser as a course requirement, only to find their application is screened out because of the 180-day statute.


This bureaucratic process, replete with obstacles, causes many who would like to continue to serve as civilians to search elsewhere, finding positions in the private sector or as a contractor. Many simply cannot wait the six months to take their next professional step.


While they find other opportunities, the Pentagon continues its “war for talent” – not just to find uniformed servicemembers, but also to fill critical civilian positions that require costly security clearances, extensive training, and technical experience.   


Waivers Aren’t Enough

DoD recently waived the 180-day rule for certain health care workers, as highlighted by a DoD Inspector General (IG) report on personnel shortages. The waiver took effect June 23, 2023, and will last until Sept. 30, 2025, for health care occupations designated as a shortage category.


This waiver was enacted only after DoD was deep in a staffing crisis – one made worse by the six-month waiting period, according to military treatment facility (MTF) personnel.


“MTF officials stated that not being able to hire recently retired Service members as civilians until 180 days after their retirement date contributed to health care personnel shortages,” the IG report states. “[A]n official from one MTF stated that Service members cannot afford to wait 180 days to gain employment, and most will seek employment outside the MTF where they can make significantly more money. As a result, the MTFs lose valuable and experienced personnel.”


[RELATED: DoD Report Details ‘Pervasive’ Staffing Problems at Walter Reed]


Prior to the blanket waiver, MTF officials were forced to use the traditional DoD waiver process. They told the IG that the process “took longer than the 180-day restriction.”


Waivers have been offered in other areas: A spring Army Career Fair, for example, offered on-the-spot waivers amidst “record-breaking retirements from civilian positions,” according to one senior official.


Why Not Lift the Rule?

The intent of the 180-day rule was to prevent senior military officers in positions of influence from creating civilian positions for themselves upon retirement. However, the current scope of the rule restricts the ability of federal hiring authorities to hire highly qualified individuals for GS-13 and below positions that require up-to-date military certifications and experience.


As DoD modernizes various weapons systems in support of the National Defense Strategy, the services also must modernize personnel hiring procedures. Changes to the 180-day rule for GS-13 and below will remove an obstacle to improve the quality of the talent pool competing for such positions and increase the readiness of the force – both major concerns for our military leaders.


[RELATED: NDAA Checkpoint: Where the Bill Stands, and What It Could Mean to Your Benefits]


Broad Support

MOAA and its partners in The Military Coalition (TMC) – a consortium of military and veterans’ groups representing nearly 5.5 million servicemembers, retirees, veterans, families, and survivors – have advocated to secure bipartisan support for this legislation. 


“The 180-day waiting period has been bad for DoD and for retirees,” said TMC President CW4 Jack Du Teil, USA (Ret). “The waiting period has resulted in a talent management problem for hiring officials and an antiquated, cumbersome process for qualified candidates. Removing it helps federal hiring become more competitive with private industry and more navigable for the skilled technicians with security clearances who can support our weapons systems and national security priorities."


Grassroots action is important for NDAA inclusion of the Retain Skilled Veterans Act. You can reach out through our Legislative Action Center or call 866-272-MOAA (6622), a toll-free line to the U.S. Capitol switchboard, to connect with your legislators’ offices.


For more information on other advocacy initiatives, please visit MOAA’s Advocacy News page.


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About the Author

Lt. Col. Mark Belinsky, USA (Ret)
Lt. Col. Mark Belinsky, USA (Ret)

Belinsky retired in 2019 after serving 22 years, with overseas tours to Afghanistan, Iraq, the Republic of Korea, and Germany. He joined the MOAA team in 2019 as Director, Currently Serving and Retired Affairs.