OPM seeks feedback on new internship program

The Office of Personnel Management is soliciting public feedback as it irons out the details of its new federal internship program, according to the agency's director.

In a panel discussion with federal officials, human capital experts and academic leaders on Monday, OPM Director John Berry said his agency is casting a wider net to create regulations for Pathways, which is an overhaul of the current process for bringing students and recent graduates into government service. OPM will use social media and focus groups with students, university communities and federal employees outside the Washington area to solicit feedback on proposed program rules, he said.

President Obama on Dec. 27, 2010, issued an executive order scrapping the controversial Federal Career Internship Program. The directive also established three pathways for young talent to enter the federal workplace. In a January memo to chief human capital officers, Berry outlined how agencies should convert FCIP participants to competitive service and laid out the steps for continuing use of current internship programs while regulations are being finalized.

"The executive order is the starting pistol, not the finish line," Berry said. "We want to get the regulations stood up as quickly as we can, but we want to do it right."

The details of Pathways still need to be ironed out, federal officials and participants agreed. For example, OPM is looking for ways to boost mentorship opportunities for Presidential Management Fellowship participants by pairing them with Senior Executive Service members. According to Berry, one way to slow retirement of federal workers is to create part-time opportunities for older employees willing to mentor young interns and fellows.

"You might want to sleep in, you may want to play a little more golf, but you've still got a lot of brain power and you'd still like to contribute," Berry said. "Let's let them work part-time without scoring it in such a way that it hurts their retirement. Make it as part of their requirement while they're in that program that they must serve as a mentor to a newbie in one of these Pathways programs."

Panelists also highlighted the need for a streamlined process for getting young talent into government, metrics to measure agency progress and targeted hiring to reach candidates qualified to fill specified positions.

"We're going to have to do some things with hiring reform, but we have to create something like FCIP to target in on the talent pools that really meet [agency] needs," said Paul Posner, director of the public administration program at George Mason University. "We lost a lot here. . . . We're going to have to step up efforts if we're going to get back to where we were on FCIP."

A strong commitment from OPM and the Office of Management and Budget to develop and reinforce performance goals, along with pressure from Congress and other sources, such as the university community, will protect new regulations from being shelved, panelists said. That's also important because the current budget climate presents a disincentive for investing in human capital initiatives, as well as a challenge for recruiting and compensating candidates to meet particular agency needs, they noted.

"There's a recognition that we need to have different kinds of [compensation] systems for where the market is," Posner said. "It produces a nightmare for OPM for consistency. . . . It is an asset, in some ways, not a cost, but how do you implement that in a way that has analytic integrity? It's always a challenge in the budget process."

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