OPM and Connolly Consider Improvements to Federal Internship Program

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No, the federal hiring process is still not perfect, and agency internship programs may require some work.

But the Office of Personnel Management and a few members of Congress brought a familiar message to a group of students on Monday: Uncle Sam wants you.

After all, less than 8% of the federal workforce is under the age of 30, and many agencies have serious hiring needs.

“The Office of Personnel Management, under the leadership of this president and under my leadership, is really working on massive hiring,” Principal Kiran Ahuja told a group of students Monday at George Mason University in Fairfax. , Virginia. “It’s actually time to join the federal government. There are a lot of recruitments going on for many good reasons for very difficult issues like climate change, but we are also in the process of rebuilding a lot of these agencies. “

Monday’s event, which also featured Reps Don Beyer and Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Was billed as a discussion of “opportunities for the next generation of public servants”.

“We absolutely have to focus on early career talent,” said Ahuja. “We are facing a major wave of retirements. I think they’re all hanging around because of the pandemic and working from home, so that’s good for us in that case. But I think people are thinking of retirement. We certainly want to not only cherish this institutional knowledge, but also to make sure that we pass on everything they have gained in their roles.

The number of federal employees under 30 has declined at every agency over the past 10 years, the Biden administration said, and more than 14% of the federal workforce is over 60.

“We’re going to have to recruit hundreds of thousands of federal workers over the next few years,” said Connolly, who is chair of the House Oversight and Reform subcommittee on government operations. “We need to expand our capabilities, and I think that means more flexibility, both in hiring practices and in workplace rules.”

The OPM recently put the finishing touches to a new policy that allows agencies to strategically recruit certain students for positions in the competitive service on a term or temporary basis. He finalized another policy that allows agencies to rehire former federal employees at a higher level than when they left government.

Improving Pathways, the existing collection of federal programs for student interns and recent graduates, is also “on our list,” Ahuja said.

The data shows that the government as a whole is offering significantly fewer paid internships through the Passport program today than it was ten years ago. Agencies offered 60,000 paid internships in 2010, up from just 4,000 in 2020, according to the latest budget request from the Biden administration.

Naturally, the federal government is hiring fewer interns in full-time positions. Agencies hired 35,000 interns in 2010, down from just 4,000 in 2018, a drop of 89%, according to the Trump administration’s 2020 budget request.

“We have completely failed to create an internship opportunity that is used for recruiting,” Connolly said of the Pathways program. “We can’t afford it anymore. We need to use internships in a much more robust way to meet our recruiting needs, and that gives us the opportunity to make it creative, make it exciting, and make sure it’s structured in a way that it is a rewarding experience for those who decide to do an internship.

Connolly said he’s working on legislation that would streamline and improve the federal internship program, and he’s working with OPM on the details.

Potential legislation would create a centralized platform where students could find specific internship opportunities, and it would ensure that agencies use best practices to manage their interns, such as finding them mentors and conducting exit interviews.

Ahuja said the OPM is also considering ways the administration could streamline and standardize the federal internship experience and invest more tangible resources in the agency’s programs.

Some agencies have invested a lot of time and resources in their internship programs, but others haven’t, she said.

“We have to find that balance between the two by making sure we have a competitive process, but we really make it easier for the early-career talent we spoke to today… to enter the federal government. [and] which makes it much easier for agencies to use these programs, ”Ahuja told Federal News Network after Monday’s event. “I don’t have a specific timeline, but I’ll tell you it’s on our priority list over the next few months to work on it.”

The federal hiring process is still taking too long, Ahuja admitted. But those who hold out are likely to find the opportunity to be true supporters of the government, she said.

“Our call to all of you today and what I think we will do for the months to come… is that the federal government is actually a great place and a very cool place to work,” said Ahuja, who also touted government health insurance, retirement benefits and a still relatively new paid parental leave program.

“We are really trying to position the federal government in the future as a model employer,” she added. “It’s not just what we’ve done well and how we think about the individual as a whole, it’s about how we need to set trends in the employment sector around very good workplace policies. “

This is also why federal agencies are embracing remote working options, said Ahuja, who admitted that she had been a bit skeptical about telecommuting until the pandemic experience changed the way she worked. to think.

“My plan and my perspective, of course in partnership with all of you on the Hill and also in all the agencies, is to really look at telecommuting,” she said. “There are actually some limitations in the law right now that we will have to overcome to make it more expansive.”

Connolly was the original author of the Better Teleworking Act, which Congress passed in 2010 for the initial purpose of establishing agency-based telecommuting programs. This bill was a start, Connolly said, but it did not set specific parameters or targets for agency teleworking programs.

He is drafting another bill that would set those parameters, and he wants to explore the lessons agencies have learned during the pandemic.

“If you don’t set metrics, everything is ambitious,” Connolly told Federal News Network. “Yeah, yeah, telecommuting is good. No, no, it’s a tool to get the job done.

David Thornton contributed reporting for this story.


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