Federal hiring program amended

Nabbing federal jobs and internships may be easier for students starting this March, after the Obama administration announced a slew of changes to the civil service hiring process.

President Barack Obama issued an executive order last month to replace the Federal Career Intern Program with an improved recruiting program, designed to give students and recent college graduates a leg-up in the hiring process.

The FCIP was created by former President Bill Clinton in 2000 to “recruit and attract exceptional individuals into a variety of occupations,” according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management website. The program came under scrutiny in recent years by labor groups who said the program was being misused.

Obama said the current structure favored applicants with significant previous work experience – leaving out those students with little experience beyond internships.

“This structure, along with the complexity of the rules governing admission to the career civil service, creates a barrier to recruiting and hiring students and recent graduates,” Obama’s executive order said.

Paul Binkley, the director of Career Development Services at the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration, who advises graduate students seeking government jobs said the program is flawed, but is the easiest way to get a public service job.

“It was the only time [the government] could conceivably offer you the job at the end of the interview. You would just need a resume and a cover letter and within two or three weeks you could be hired,” Binkley said.

Binkley said “the FCIPs were not the ideal vehicle – they were flawed, but they were one of the best ways to get into the federal government.”

After a review of FCIP, the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board found that the program violates a statute relating to veterans’ preferences in hiring, according to a news release in November 2010 from the National Treasury Employees Union.

The union, the largest of its kind, filed a lawsuit in 2007 in D.C.’s U.S. District Court that challenged the Office of Personnel Management’s rules covering the hiring program.

“That suit challenges the program as applied to all employees, not just veterans, and is awaiting a ruling in federal district court,” according to a November news release from National Treasury Employees.

The union sought the elimination of the Federal Career Intern Program and conversion of those hired under the program to “the competitive service without loss of pay or benefits.”

The union argued that under the program, federal agencies had no limits on the number of interns they could hire and didn’t require that competitive recruitment and selection processes take place.

The union has stated that outside limited internships, the organization supports competitive hiring in the civil service for all applicants.

“At the moment the unions are talking about capping the number of non-competitive positions available for undergrads and grads. It doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. There can be both, graduates of college and members of unions,” Binkley said. ?

A new structure will organize three programs, or paths – the internship program, the recent graduate program and the presidential management fellows program – to be known as the Pathways Programs. The revamped programs will begin March 1.

For current students, the new internship program will be “targeted towards students enrolled in a wide variety of educational institutions,” according to a Office of Personnel Management memo.

To be eligible, an applicant must apply within two years of completing his or her degree.

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