Hiring reform could signal end of federal internship program

Federal employee unions hope the Obama administration's hiring reform effort announced earlier this week heralds the demise of the federal internship program, according to officials from the two largest unions.

The May 11 White House memo did not end the Federal Career Intern Program, but President Obama directed the Office of Management and Budget to evaluate it and provide recommendations for FCIP's future. Union officials hope that review spells the end of the internship program.

"We are disappointed that the president has not used the memorandum to restrict the use of the Federal Career Intern Program," stated the American Federation of Government Employees. "While the Obama administration has committed to evaluate the use of the FCIP, there is already ample evidence that the FCIP is on the verge of replacing the competitive service."

National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley was equally unequivocal in her opposition of the program. "NTEU wants the FCIP ended now, and is working to accomplish that goal," Kelley said. "A fair review will show clearly that agencies are using the FCIP in ways not contemplated when the program was initiated," she added. "Everyone agrees it is not an intern program under any commonly accepted definition. It has also proved to be particularly unfair to veterans. I am confident a review will result in a recommendation to end the program."

Like AFGE, the National Treasury Employees Union believes there is evidence that the program is being misused. Kelley said some agencies have been misusing the FCIP by making it their primary hiring tool, which goes far beyond the intended structured, two-year training and development internships.

If successful, hiring reform could dissuade agencies from misusing the internship program. Agencies that have used the program extensively have argued that it is one of the few tools available to expedite hiring. The White House memo directs OPM to devise a framework for recruiting college students and recent graduates for federal jobs -- a move that preemptively could address any concerns that scaling back the FCIP would make attracting young people to government more challenging.

Without scaling back or eliminating the internship program, the administration's hiring reforms will have little relevance, AFGE said. Kelley agrees. "Reforms to the competitive hiring process will accomplish little if agencies are permitted to continue to avoid competitive hiring by misusing excepted service hiring authority, particularly the Federal Career Intern Program," she said.

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