OPM promises fellows program will be better in 2013

OPM's John Berry said the agency identified the false acceptance letters “almost immediately.” OPM's John Berry said the agency identified the false acceptance letters “almost immediately.” OPM photo

When hundreds of aspiring young federal workers receive false acceptance letters from the government, something probably needs to be fixed -- and the Office of Personnel Management wants Congress to know something will be.

In an April 19 letter to Congress uncovered Tuesday by Federal News Radio, OPM Director John Berry outlined the government’s plans to “burnish the prestige” of the recently maligned Presidential Management Fellows Program.

The letter, addressed to House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Oversight Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal Service and Labor Policy Chairman Dennis Ross, R-Fla., acknowledged the “unfortunate problems” OPM experienced in January when program acceptance emails were mistakenly sent to about 300 applicants. These were followed up by rejection emails less than 24 hours later, creating mass confusion and provoking the affected parties to flood the program’s Facebook page.

Berry promised that program revisions would be in place in time for the 2013 recruitment cycle, including a revised application and assessment process, an updated online database of finalists and a new advisory council to “promote best practices between agencies.” He added OPM was exploring the possibility of using senior government officials as in-person assessors for applicants, and he promised better support systems for data access, management and reporting, along with improved resources for program alumni.

Additionally, Berry provided more information that Issa and Ross requested in the March 1 letter to OPM.

In response to the Congressmen’s inquiry about factors that could have affected candidates’ abilities to apply for the program, Berry acknowledged “some complications” while stating OPM did not believe they prevented anyone from completing their program application. He added the agency identified the false acceptance letters “almost immediately.”

The coordinators in charge of the fellows program are appointed on an agency level, not by OPM, Berry explained.

Far from giving up on the program, Berry pointed to its 84 percent retention rate over “a recent four-year period” as proof of its success. He also said the program had received no “formal complaints,” which he defined as letters to the OPM director, ombudsman or any other agency official, between January 2009 and the present. “Informal complaints” received through social media sites “were addressed immediately and to the satisfaction of the candidates,” Berry said.

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