Uncle Sam seeks interns, fellows

OPM Director John Berry OPM Director John Berry OPM

The government’s new program to attract students and recent graduates to public service takes effect Tuesday.

Agencies must transition from the current system to Pathways Programs, an initiative that grew out of a 2010 executive order directing agencies to make it easier for students and recent grads to pursue careers in the federal government. The new program 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.

John Berry, director of the Office of Personnel Management, outlined the program’s rules in a May briefing with reporters. “These new pathways will place a welcome sign on federal service for students and recent graduates,” he said at the time. “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.”

Berry emphasized that the tracks are designed to reach not only the current college-age generation but also anyone who has returned to school.

The internship track for current students replaces the Student Career Experience Program and the Student Temporary Program. The initiative is for students in high school, vocational and technical schools, and those enrolled in a university at the undergraduate or graduate levels. 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 a credit of up to 320 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 the May briefing, Berry said the goal with the PMF track was to “repolish” the program’s credentials. OPM has beefed up its candidate assessment tools to ensure it picks top fellows and has increased training and orientation for the group. 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.

Agencies will be required to report to OPM on the implementation of their student and recent graduate programs. Most agencies likely will interview candidates in the fall for the Pathways programs and bring successful applicants on board within a few months through spring 2013.

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.

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