The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) recently informed NBCC that it has indefinitely postponed the creation of a federal occupational series for professional counselors. NBCC responded immediately and sought congressional assistance.
An occupational series is a government classification that establishes the minimum qualifications for federal employees and authorizes agency-wide employment. A series is necessary to ensure the federal government employs counselors in positions that reflect their education, training and scope of practice.
On June 9, 2014, Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), a longtime ally of the counseling profession, submitted a letter to the director of OPM, urging the creation of an occupational series for mental health counselors. Sen. Tester is the chair of the Subcommittee on the Efficiency and Effectiveness of Federal Programs and the Federal Workforce, of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction over OPM.
Sen. Tester’s letter highlights the importance and urgency of this issue, saying, “This is an increasingly critical issue, given the severe nationwide shortage of mental health workers, particularly in the VA, and considering that these professions comprise 40 percent of the total mental health workforce nationwide.” He further notes that the “absence of designation inhibits employment, promotion and portability of these professionals across the federal government.”
NBCC has been pursuing an occupational series for counselors for many years. In 2009, after passage of legislation recognizing counselors as Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) providers, the VA requested that OPM create a series for the profession. Since the VA letter, NBCC has been working directly with OPM to facilitate an occupational study, the first step in the process.
NBCC will continue to work with Sen. Tester and other members of Congress to encourage OPM to proceed with an occupational series expeditiously. We will keep you updated on the status of this effort.
Thomas W. Clawson, Ed.D., NCC, NCSC, LPC
President and CEO, NBCC