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Uncle Sam wants you, at every age

Final rules issued on government’s new strategy to attract students and recent grads of every generation.

The Office of Personnel Management on Wednesday unveiled the final details of the government’s new program to attract students and recent graduates to public service.

During a briefing with reporters, Director John Berry outlined the final regulations regarding the Pathways Programs, an initiative that grew out of a 2010 executive order calling on agencies to make it easier for students and recent graduates to pursue careers in the federal government. The rules were published in the Federal Register on Thursday and take effect July 10. OPM will help agencies transition to the new programs this year and into 2013, said Berry.

“These new pathways will place a welcome sign on federal service for students and recent graduates,” he said. “The aim is to enable students and recent graduates to more effectively compete for federal service. Over the summer, we will continue to work with federal agencies to implement these regulations and to identify specific opportunities for students and recent graduates.”

The Pathways Programs includes three tracks -- for current students, recent graduates and Presidential Management Fellows. Participants will be classified under a new Schedule D within the excepted service, and each program will honor veterans' preference. Excepted service positions are designed to streamline the hiring process and have different evaluation criteria from the competitive service, in which applicants compete for jobs under the merit system.

Berry emphasized that the tracks are designed to reach not only the current college-age generation but also anyone who has returned to school. “They might be recent vets using the new GI bill, moms going back to school after raising kids, workers who’ve gone to night school, or even long-term unemployed folks who sought out a new trade or degree,” he said.

The internship track for current students replaces the Student Career Experience Program and the Student Temporary Program. The new initiative is for students in high school, vocational and technical schools, and enrolled in a university at the undergraduate or graduate level. For successful interns to be converted into the federal civil service they have to complete 640 hours on the job. Interns demonstrating exceptional performance or academic excellence can receive up to 320 credit hours under the program toward the 640-hour requirement.

The recent graduates track -- open to applicants who have completed a post-high school educational program within the past two years -- places candidates in a one-year career development program with additional time for mandatory training that must be completed before the job start date. Veterans who were precluded from applying during the two-year period because of military service obligations will have six years after completing their degree to apply. Those who graduated after the date of the executive order -- Dec. 27, 2010 -- will have a full two years from July 10, 2012, to apply.

The Presidential Management Fellows track is the former Presidential Management Intern program, which offers a prestigious two-year stint in the federal government working on various assignments at different agencies. During Wednesday’s briefing, Berry said the goal with the PMF track was to “repolish” the program’s credentials. He said OPM has beefed up its candidate assessment tools to ensure it picks top fellows and has increased training and orientation for the group. According to Berry, the government receives about 10,000 applications annually for the PMF program and accepts 600 to 1,000 candidates. In January, OPM sent acceptance letters to hundreds of PMF applicants by mistake in an embarrassing snafu.

The revamped intern and recent graduate pipeline, particularly the track for recent graduates, is designed to streamline the programs and make them more transparent. Many unions and other observers criticized the controversial and now-defunct Federal Career Intern Program, which some agencies used to circumvent the traditional federal hiring process. Under FCIP, agencies could appoint individuals to two-year internships, after which they were eligible for permanent positions. In November 2010, the Merit Systems Protection Board ruled that FCIP violated federal veterans' preference laws.

Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, praised OPM for incorporating some of NTEU’s recommendations into the final rules, but she also expressed concerns over implementation. “As in the FCIP, the final Pathways regulations fail to limit either the number of employees who may be hired under the programs or the types of positions that can be filled,” Kelley said. “These glaring omissions endanger the competitive hiring system that has served the nation so well for so long.” Kelley said the union is still evaluating the regulations, released on Thursday.

During Wednesday’s briefing, Berry said OPM is making sure vets get priority in the Pathways programs. Agencies will be required to report to OPM on the implementation of their student and recent graduate programs.

For the initial effort, Berry expects that agencies will interview candidates in the fall for the Pathways programs and bring successful applicants on board within a few months through spring 2013.