Proposed regulations are scheduled to be published on Wednesday in the Federal Register.

Proposed regulations are scheduled to be published on Wednesday in the Federal Register. Douglas Rissing/Getty Images

The federal government’s primary internship program is getting its first update in a decade

The Office of Personnel Management will propose regulations Wednesday governing the federal government’s Pathways Programs to make it more appealing for potential applicants and easier for agencies to use as a recruitment tool.

The Office of Personnel Management on Tuesday announced its plan to revamp the federal government’s main internship program for the first time in a decade, as the Biden administration seeks to make it easier for agencies to cultivate and recruit young people into the federal workforce.

Federal human resources leaders have made revamping federal internship programs to make them more enticing to potential applicants since Biden took office, following a decade of declining enrollment in agencies’ internship offerings and low conversion rates of interns into permanent employees. The administration thus far has focused on ensuring more federal internships are paid, as well as making it easier for agencies to hire college students and recent graduates. And federal agencies have pledged to hire more than 35,000 interns over the course of this fiscal year.

Proposed regulations scheduled to be published by OPM Wednesday in the Federal Register would mark the first major update to the federal government’s Pathways Programs since 2012. The Pathways Programs govern the three main internship programs across the federal government: the internships program, designed for high school and college students, the recent graduates program, a one- to two-year program for those who have recently completed a degree or certificate, and the Presidential Management Fellows program, which is for recent graduates from an advanced degree program.

“Based on agency feedback and OPM’s own analysis, we are proposing several changes aimed at enhancing the robust usage of the Pathways Programs as a key source of early career talent in the federal government, as a supplement to, and not a substitute for, the competitive hiring process,” the regulations state. “Overall, the purpose of this proposal is to streamline the Pathways regulations, making it easier for agencies to recruit and hire Pathways program participants, and to optimize the Pathways program as a tool to recruit and retain diverse and highly-qualified early career talent.”

Among the proposed changes are extending the window during which a federal intern may be converted to a permanent position from 120 days to 180 days, making it easier for agencies to fulfill the requirement that they publicly post job openings for internships to include “a web page with a link to a USAJOBS” posting, and expanding the eligibility for the Recent Graduates program to those who have completed career or technical education programs, such as the Peace Corps, Americorps, Job Corps and registered apprenticeships, in addition to traditional colleges and universities.

Additionally, OPM proposed allowing participants in the Recent Graduates and Presidential Management Fellows programs to be converted into term or permanent positions under some circumstances, as well as allowing agencies to accommodate part-time work schedules for some Presidential Management Fellows. And the agency proposed allowing applicants to federal internships who have completed a registered apprenticeship program or participated in Job Corps to credit up to 320 hours served in those programs toward the 640 hour total required to become eligible for a permanent position.

“Early career programs are a critical pathway into public service,” said OPM Director Kiran Ahuja in a statement. “Updating the Pathways Programs will allow the federal government to better compete with other sectors for talent and ensure the paths to public service are clear and free. Whether you’re entering the workforce for the first time or changing professions, the federal government offers opportunities in every sector and every industry.”

Although proposed regulations are often accompanied by a 60-day period during which stakeholders and members of the public may weigh in on the new policies, OPM’s proposal features only a 45-day comment period. That’s because the federal government’s HR agency hopes to align the implementation of the new regulations before agencies begin their recruitment for the summer internship season.

“The traditional agency recruiting season for early career talent, including interns, begins as early as winter to allow for internships to begin in the spring/summer,” OPM wrote. “Agencies also start extending offers for full-time positions in the spring to students who expect to graduate in the summer. Prospective interns and job applicants frequently choose between numerous offers and opportunities in the winter and spring; agencies can maximize their chances of attracting and hiring great candidates if their recruiting and hiring activities are strategically timed. Applicants also benefit from having greater certainty about employment decisions as soon as possible.”

The deadline to comment on OPM’s new internship regulations is Sept. 30, and OPM said it intends to roll out any revisions to the proposed rule “expeditiously."