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U.S. governments have long explicitly preferred military veterans in hiring, as a way of honoring them for their service and sacrifices. I examine the effect of this preference on the diversity and quality of the public service. Census data for 1990, 2000, and 2006-9 show that veterans are at least three times as likely to hold federal jobs as, but only 10% more likely to hold state and federal government jobs than, comparable individuals without military service. Preferential treatment of veterans has dramatically increased the percentage of federal employees who are men and has probably decreased the percentages who are Asians, gay men, and immigrants, but effects on the composition of state and local governments is small. Federal personnel data for the past decade show that veteran new hires are older and less educated than nonveteran new hires, and that they do not advance as far in the first fifteen years of their careers as nonveterans hired into the same grades at the same time, suggesting that veterans’ preference may be lowering the performance of the federal service.


This is a pre-copyedited, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in the Journal of Public Administration Research & Theory following peer review. The version of record:

Lewis, Gregory B. The Impact of Veterans’ Preference on the Composition and Quality of the Federal Civil Service. Journal of Public Administration Research & Theory 23.2 (2013): 247–265.

is available online at: 10.1093/jopart/mus029