New bill would provide grad student scholarships for service

Lawmakers introduced a bill on Thursday to create a scholarship program for graduate students in fields related to mission-critical operations, offering them help with tuition and living expenses in exchange for three to five years of government service.

"What we're dealing with is a crisis of capacity -- the government's capacity to continue providing the services that Americans depend upon," said Rep. David Price, D-N.C., who co-chairs the Congressional Service Caucus, and introduced the legislation along with Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn. "In the face of a dwindling professional workforce, we must act now to recruit the scientists, engineers and other high-level experts who make our government work."

The Roosevelt Scholars Act would provide eligible graduate students up to $60,000 for as many as five years of graduate study. The students would be required to complete at least one federal internship and to act as ambassadors for federal service on their campuses by serving as information resources for interested students and career programs.

Max Stier, president and CEO of the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, said he thought the bill integrated many of the elements necessary both to promote public service and make it accessible to promising college graduates. The Partnership proposed a graduate student scholarship program in July 2007, and provided Price and Shays with research assistance and suggestions while writing the legislation.

"Here the effort is to create a brand that will rival the Rhodes and Marshall and other scholarships that are out there," said Stier, comparing the program, if enacted, to the Reserve Officers Training Corps. "It leverages the talent so they are helpful before they complete their degrees."

Shays said he couldn't "think of a better investment the federal government could make than in training and invigorating its future leaders."

In addition to assisting students, the bill would allow agencies to make noncompetitive two-year appointments of Roosevelt Scholars who complete their academic programs, and to convert them to career positions if they are successful in their initial appointments.

Stier said awarding the scholarships could help agencies plan their hiring strategies several years in advance.

"It kind of helps government think more strategically about where those talent needs are going to be," he said.

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