OPM finalizes rules for new intern, hiring programs

Thursday - 5/10/2012, 5:39am EDT

Ruben Gomez, reporter, Federal News Radio

Download mp3

The story was updated at 11 a.m. May 10 to include comments from NTEU.

The Office of Personnel Management published final rules Thursday aimed at helping agencies recruit and hire students and recent graduates through the Pathways Program.

The plan includes three major tracks: Internship Program, Recent Graduates Program and Presidential Management Fellows Program (PMF).

Internship Program

The Internship Program will recruit students who are enrolled at least half-time in qualifying educational programs. OPM said it will open the program to students at several levels on the academic ladder, including high school, undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate.

OPM Director John Berry

When the rules take effect July 10, OPM will end both the Student Temporary Employment Program (STEP) and the Student Career Experience Program (SCEP), to simplify the rules for obtaining internships. The current setup confuses students, who don't always understand the differences between STEP and SCEP, said OPM Director John Berry during a briefing with reporters Wednesday.

"If you're in school and you're working for the federal government, you're an intern," Berry said.

Recent Graduates Program

Students who have received degrees can apply for opportunities in the Recent Graduates Program, which is for applicants who have completed qualifying post-high school educational programs, such as those offered by colleges and vocational schools.

"Everybody will get a two-year window after they graduate," Berry said. "You will be allowed to apply for positions that the agencies will identify in (the Recent Graduates Program). And again, just like with the intern program, if you do a good job, you can be converted after a year of service

Members of the military whose service precludes them from applying during the two-year window may apply within six years.

Both the Internship and Recent Graduate Programs seek to help federal managers find permanent civil servants, OPM said. Agencies will have the option of offering permanent jobs to anyone who does well.

Presidential Management Fellows Program

While the Internship and Recent Graduate programs might primarily help agencies recruit lower-level employees, the PMF program will target graduate and post-graduate degree holders interested in the junior ranks of federal management. OPM hopes to "polish" the program, which began more than three decades ago, to improve effectiveness.

"We are increasing the assessment tools that will help us identify better candidates," Berry said. "We are increasing the sense of cohort amongst those classes, so they'll get to know one another in joint exercises and training. And we are increasing the onboarding and training exercises that the (Presidential Management Fellows) will go through in that program."

The National Treasury Employees Union criticized the final regulations, saying they do not go far enough to prevent abuse.

"While I am pleased to see certain of NTEU's recommended changes incorporated into Office of Personnel Management (OPM) regulations implementing the Pathways Programs," NTEU President Colleen Kelley said in a statement, "I remain concerned that the programs as designed, particularly the Recent Graduates Program, permit agencies to circumvent long-standing competitive hiring practices and merit systems principles."

NTEU voiced the same concern in October, after OPM issued proposed rules for the Pathways Program.

In a statement, American Federation of Government Employees National President John Gage said AFGE was still evaluating the final regulations.

"We applaud the Office of Personnel Management for taking to heart the need for significant reform to the federal internship program and to the agencies' general hiring processes," Gage said in the statement.

To be sure agencies administer the Pathways Program properly, OPM will implement new reporting requirements.

"Agencies have to tell us what jobs they're going to be filling through these programs, where they're located, what the pay is, and how people will apply for them," said Robert Shriver, OPM's deputy general counsel for policy. "We will be putting that information on [USAJobs.gov]."

In the effort to oversee the program, OPM's Merit Systems Audit and Compliance Office will analyze how agencies use the Pathways Program, Shriver said. These audits will become part of the office's periodic reviews of agency hiring practices.

"Our regulations make it clear we have the ability to revoke agency authority to use these programs, if they're not being used properly," Shriver said. "We're not expecting that. We're expecting the agencies will use them as they're intended to be used. But we do have that authority."

OPM will work with agencies to develop specific implementation plans.

RELATED STORIES

OPM outlines students' fast track to government jobs

OPM lays new path for intern, hiring programs

Union says Pathways Program retains hiring 'circumvention'