sturti / istock

OPM Rule Eases Agency Hiring of Interns

Under regulations slated for publication Wednesday, agencies will be able to hire job candidates still in college to temporary jobs and can eventually convert them to permanent positions.

The Office of Personnel Management is issuing regulations to make it easier for federal agencies to pay and offer jobs to their interns who are still in college, implementing provisions of recent laws aimed at improving recruitment of young federal employees.

Although many federal agencies have had internship programs for years, officials reported that they have struggled to convert them into significant recruitment pipelines for federal employment. The fiscal 2019 and 2020 National Defense Authorization acts sought to fix that disconnect by allowing agencies to offer term appointments to college interns and recent graduates, with the option to convert them to permanent jobs down the road.

An interim rule slated to be published in the Federal Register Wednesday begins the process of implementing these two laws. It sets up a new expedited hiring authority to offer temporary (one year) or term (up to four years) appointments in the competitive service to students pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees.

Under the regulations, college students studying at least part time can work for a federal agency while finishing their studies, provided they are paid at the GS-11 level or below. The rule also allows a “break in program” to allow students to work full time, like at a summer internship, pause their agency work to study full time, or simply take a short break.

“The intent of the program is for students to either attend classes, work at the agency or both,” the regulations state. “An agency may use its discretion in either approving or denying a request for a break in program.”

Students may not be promoted while serving on a one-year temporary appointment, although they may be converted to a new temporary appointment at a higher pay grade, provided they meet the qualifications for the pay increase.

Under the new rule, agencies would not be required to use USAJOBS to post vacancies—they may simply post the jobs to their website—although OPM suggested agencies may wish to use the governmentwide job board anyway to assist with requirements to collect demographic information about hiring under the new authority.

OPM said that once a student completes their degree, they will become eligible for conversion to a permanent position in the competitive service, provided they meet the qualifications for that job.

“Upon conversion, the time served by a post-secondary student under this authority is creditable toward career tenure and may count towards fulfillment of the probationary period,” OPM wrote.

In a blog post announcing the regulations, OPM Director Kiran Ahuja said the initiative will help recruit the next generation of federal workers, and make it easier for agencies to offer paid positions to college students, making it part of President Biden’s effort to end unpaid internships in the federal government. The White House has argued that unpaid internships are a barrier to a diverse workforce, as lower income and underserved communities often cannot afford to take unpaid career opportunities.

“When the gateway to a federal career is an unpaid internship, the most likely people to make it through are the ones who can afford to work for free,” she wrote. “The Post-Secondary Student Hiring Authority is one way we’re preventing that outcome, extending the opportunity of a federal career to Americans of all walks of life, and welcoming a diversity of backgrounds, experiences and viewpoints.”

The interim rule also stated that OPM plans to publish additional regulations making it easier for agencies to hire recent college graduates.