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Local Camouflage: Don’t Overlook Municipal Government Employment for Veterans

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Benjamin M. Effinger
March 3, 2021

In 2010, when I separated from Active Duty in the United States Air Force after 8 years of service, I was not sure about a great many things. One thing that I was certain of was that I wanted to work within government. This was a non-negotiable decision, as I wanted my 8 years of military service to count towards retirement, and in the private sector I knew it wouldn’t. This also helped to guide my decision when I enrolled in graduate school, choosing a Masters in Public Administration (MPA), as opposed to all of the other graduate degrees that were out there and trending in the educational marketplace. An MPA may have not been the sexiest of graduate degree choices, but I knew that it was congruent with my decision to pursue a government career after the military.

When considering government service, like many other veterans, I was focused on the United States Federal Government. This seemed natural to me and countless others, as we were familiar with the civilian GS positions that existed within our military units. They were always staffed by retired or separated military members, so it seemed like a no-brainer. After many rounds of “Referred to Hiring Manager” on USAJobs.gov, the reality began to set in that unless you know somebody or have an “in” with the hiring manager, there really wasn’t going to be much that materialized from this process. I decided to rely upon my background in law enforcement, working within the security management field, to fill the void in between my transition out of the service and completing my graduate degree. But the end goal didn’t change. Upon completing my graduate degree, I was still going to get into government service.

In February 2013, I finished my graduate degree and re-ignited my desire to get into government service. I learned, through my degree program, that local municipal and state governments operate very similarly to the federal government. Many of them have reciprocity for military service and will count the years of service towards retirement. This prompted me to start thinking about the local communities that surrounded me and I focused my efforts on setting up a canvassing system for the local cities and counties to identify career opportunities. I set up Indeed lists for all categories; public policy, public administration, public sector management and so on, so that my email inbox would be populated with the newest job listings daily. Combing through these lists became a daunting task, but in March 2013, I found my “golden ticket,” for lack of a better word.

I found a non-traditional program that created a unique entry path into local municipal government at the management level. Most often, to get into government at any level, you must apply and get your foot in the door at an entry level. This “wormhole,” as my County colleagues have affectionately named it, became my fast track to success in local government. Now that I have found this opportunity and navigated the process successfully, I have found myself in a position to raise awareness and education about the opportunities available to veterans within local municipal government.

As my way to raise awareness and educate others, I choose to mentor veterans through many different avenues. But still today, I find that there is this concept of federal government being the only way for a veteran to get into government and be deemed as successful. Just this past week, I had a conversation with a fellow veteran and the conversation started by talking about federal government employment and ended through discussing the same plan of action that I employed when searching for my local government career; creating a list of cities and counties with target positions of interest. In addition to positions of interest, many local municipal government agencies have programs, internships and fellowships to bring qualified talent into their organizations. These programs are great feeder systems and create succession-planning options for agencies looking to create their bench of future talent for years to come.

In addition to programs and internships, most government agencies, at all levels, give preference points to veterans. These points, in my honest opinion, were the difference between me getting a chance at employment with Los Angeles County and being on the outside looking in. My overall composite score for the Los Angeles County Management Fellow Program was an 89, and with my 10 preference points, my score became a 99. This was the difference between being in Band 1 and Band 2. Band 1 had relatively few eligible candidates, whereas Band 2 had well over 50+ candidates. Being in Band 1 meant that County agencies had to contact me to see if I was interested in interviewing with them for employment. With Band 2, the agencies were able to be more selective in the candidates they contacted for interviews. All I needed was a chance to talk about my skills and talents. Given that chance, I was sure that I could find gainful employment.

The bottom line is—don’t fall victim to the misconception that federal government employment is the only opportunity for a veteran to work in public service after their time in the military. If you are a veteran and have a heart for service to others, local government may be the path for you. Don’t discount your local cities, counties or state agencies as a viable option to continue to serve in your community. I’m happy to share more details of my story to veterans interested in the transition to local government public service. Find me on LinkedIn or Veterati to continue the conversation.

Author: Benjamin M. Effinger, MPA is a Senior Government Administrator in Los Angeles County. Prior to joining the public sector workforce, he served honorably in the United States Air Force, including a 2005 combat deployment to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Benjamin also sits on the Veterans Advisory Board for the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) and is active in the Southern California Veteran Community. He can be reached on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/benjamin-m-effinger-mpa-05a63145/, on Veterati at https://enter.veterati.com/mentor/public_profile?mid=MR.6565d652832c5e36271d65dd093e37af or by email at [email protected].

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