Military Spouse Preference in Employment

As a military spouse you are likely to move many times, which means that finding a job and building a career can be a challenge. Fortunately, several programs and organizations exist to help military spouses seeking employment. The Military Spouse Preference program (MSP), established under the Military Family Act of 1985, offers employment placement preference in Department of Defense (DoD) civilian personnel positions to military spouses who meet certain criteria. The program applies to DoD vacancies only, and there are variations and exceptions that allow local hiring authorities to tailor their policies to meet their requirements.

To be eligible for the MSP, you should

  • be the spouse of an active duty member of the U.S. Military Services, including the Coast Guard or full-time National Guard
  • be relocating (not for separation or retirement) to accompany your military sponsor under a permanent change of station (PCS) move to an active duty assignment; you may apply for MSP as early as thirty days prior to your reporting date at the new duty station
  • have been married to the military sponsor prior to the sponsor's reporting date at the new assignment
  • apply for a position within commuting distance of the sponsor's permanent new duty station
  • rank among the "best qualified" candidates for the position

Although the MSP program allows military spouses to receive preference over other candidates, some individuals are given a higher preference status. Disabled veterans, employees registered in the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) program, and former employees returning from overseas are among those given higher preference than military spouses.

MSP applies to two main types of federal employment within the DoD: civil service or Appropriated Fund (AF), and Non-Appropriated Fund (NAF). They are considered separate hiring authorities and generally have separate hiring offices on military installations.

Appropriated Fund vacancies

Civil service or Appropriated Fund (AF) vacancies are filled through the Civilian Personnel Office (CPO) or human resources office (HRO) on military installations. Spouse preference is available for AF positions at grades GS-15 and below or equivalent wage-grade positions.

However, certain positions, such as DoD school teachers and positions in intelligence-related activities, may be excluded. The following information applies to AF vacancies within the continental United States (CONUS). (Overseas, spouses may use MSP according to procedures established by the local CPO or HRO. Because regulations and procedures vary overseas, you should contact your installation's CPO or HRO for more information.) To use MSP for AF vacancies within the United States, you must

  • Create an application resume. Most applications for civil service vacancies are created through a resume-building website, such as: USAJOBS, Civilian Human Resources for the Navy and Marine Corps, or Civilian Personnel Online for the Army.
  • Have an appointability or eligibility in the civil service system. This can include current or previous work experience in the federal government (AF or NAF) or military service. If you are creating an application on one of the resume-building websites listed above, you will find a section that lists (and may explain) the types of eligibilities. In addition to your other eligibilities, you should check "military spouse preference," if that’s an option. However, military spouse preference alone does not give you eligibility in the civil service system. For details about eligibilities, contact your local CPO or HRO.
  • Register for MSP. If you meet the requirement for eligibility, you must apply for Program "S,” the Priority Placement Program for military spouses. This is the only way you can exercise your military spouse preference for an AF position (within CONUS). You can apply for the program through your local CPO. You will be asked to provide certain documentation, which includes
    • a copy of your sponsor's PCS orders
    • a copy of an SF-50 (if you have prior federal employment experience) or your DD214 (if you are a former service member)
    • a copy of your most recent performance appraisal (if you are a current or former federal employee)
    • other documentation, such as college transcripts or licenses, as required for the position

Non-Appropriated Fund vacancies

NAF positions include jobs at military exchanges, recreation facilities, restaurants, and other NAF activities. These positions are filled by the NAF HRO on your military installation. MSP applies to NAF positions at grades NF-3 (UF-8) and below. To use your MSP for an NAF position, you will need

  • An application. On many installations, you’ll need to fill out an application in person and return it to your NAF HRO. However, some installations have websites allowing you to fill out the application online.
  • A copy of your sponsor's PCS orders. Attach this to your application when you return it to the NAF HRO.
  • A request for MSP. In some cases, the hiring office may have a form you can fill out to request MSP. However, you may want to have a written statement requesting MSP when you go to the NAF HRO.

Effect on MSP when you accept a position

Generally, you can use your MSP only once at each new duty station when you accept a "continuing position." Continuing positions are positions to which appointments are made without time limitation, and which are required to have a fixed work schedule, i.e., part-time or full-time. However, if you accept a "non-continuing position" you do not lose your MSP. Non-continuing positions have a time limitation and/or do not have a required fixed work schedule, including positions defined as “temporary” or “term” regardless of work schedule; “flexible”; or permanent but with an intermittent schedule, such as substitute teaching in DoD Dependents Schools.

Your military support services

Most installations have an office with trained professionals to help military spouses find local employment. The staff can give you more information about MSP, refer you to on-installation hiring authorities (AF and NAF), help you write a resume, and refer you to potential employers in the local community. Depending on your service branch, this office may be in your Navy Fleet and Family Support Center, Marine Corps Community Services, Airman and Family Readiness Center, or Army Community Service Center. If you aren't near an installation, use the resource finder on the home page of National Guard Joint Services Support to identify your closest National Guard Family Assistance Center.

Military OneSource

This free twenty-four-hour service is available to all active duty, Guard, and Reserve members (regardless of activation status) and their families. Consultants provide information and make referrals on a wide range of issues. Free face-to-face, phone or online counseling sessions are also available. Call 800-342-9647 or go to Military OneSource to learn more.


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