Does a Better Fate Await this Year’s Presidential Management Fellow Finalists?

New hopefuls are announced as the deadline expires for the class of 2013 to land jobs.

The federal government has selected its new crop of finalists for the Presidential Management Fellows Program, just two days after the ill-fated class of 2013’s one-year deadline to find jobs expired.

The PMF class of 2014 no doubt hopes they will have better luck obtaining their two-year agency appointments than did their immediate predecessors, whose federal job prospects suffered as a result of sequestration, furloughs and a government shutdown. The Office of Personnel Management said 317 out of 663 finalists in 2013 received appointments by the deadline of April 8, 2014, or about 48 percent of last year’s group. In February more than two-thirds of the 2013 finalists hadn’t received jobs yet in the federal government.

An OPM spokeswoman said the agency works closely with agencies each year to get PMFs placed, but ultimately it is up to the agencies to determine their hiring and placement needs.

The prestigious fellowship program attracted 7,000 applications for the 2014 cycle. Officials selected 609 new finalists this year on April 10. Making that cut though doesn’t guarantee a job, just an opportunity to compete with a smaller group of applicants for the coveted two-year agency appointments. The class of 2014 has until April 10, 2015, to accept and start a PMF appointment.

“I think they are going to have similar issues, but not to the extent that 2013 did,” said Jeremy Furrer, a 2011 fellow who earlier this year helped draw attention to the plight of 2013 PMFs having a hard time getting hired because of circumstances beyond their control. Furrer predicted the 2014 crop also will have to grapple with agencies’ budgetary and hiring constraints, but the government isn’t likely to shut down again anytime soon, and furloughs will be less prevalent now that sequestration has been partially repealed for 2014 and 2015. “2013 was a particularly bad year, everything was stacked up against them,” Furrer said of last year’s finalists. Fifty-five percent of the 2011 finalists in Furrer’s class received appointments, as did 47 percent of the 2012 class.

Furrer said he knows one 2013 finalist who spent nearly the whole year searching for a job until she eventually landed an appointment on April 7 – a day before the deadline. Once a finalist receives an appointment, he or she is usually offered a full-time position at the end of the two years. “It’s very unlikely that you don’t get converted at the end of it, unless there is a problem,” Furrer said.

The extremely competitive PMF program, formerly known as the Presidential Management Intern program, gives current graduate and doctoral school students and recent degree recipients the opportunity to work for two years at a federal agency, earning the full pay and benefits of a General Schedule Grade 9, 11 or 12. Fellowship finalists are not guaranteed an appointment, however, and as of late February 2014, just 213 2013 finalists had received jobs. The final tally was higher, since agencies like the Labor Department stepped in to try and hire more finalists just before the deadline, Furrer said, and OPM recently held a job fair for the group to boost hiring.

OPM in February rejected an appeal from 2013 finalists and PMF alumni to extend the deadline for last year’s class past April 8.

“This has been a very difficult budget year and positions are not guaranteed when applying for the PMF program,” OPM Director Katherine Archuleta wrote in a Feb. 19 letter announcing that decision. “However, based on the experience of the class of 2013, I plan to take a closer look at the program and work with agencies to examine ways we can improve the number of placements for PMFs.” 

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