The Biden administration has been unambiguous about its plans to create more opportunities for young people in the federal government.
The President’s Management Agenda’s strategy to strengthen and empower the federal workforce features a heavy emphasis on early-career talent and interns. Notably, the White House set an ambitious goal to hire 35,000 people through the federal internship program in fiscal 2023.
And earlier this year, the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of Management and Budget provided agencies with guidance on how they could recruit more early-career talent. It’s pushing agencies to specifically offer more paid internship opportunities and work to reduce unpaid internships.
The focus on the issue from top White House officials is clear. But what do those young people who currently occupy positions across government have to say about their experiences? And what does it mean for these major policy pushes?
During a webinar hosted by the White House under the auspices of the PMA in June, several young professionals who recently got their start in government as interns shared their feedback.
Caroline King was hired as an intern at the Federal Aviation Administration in June 2021 and recently started a full-time position at the FAA. She said she initially hadn’t considered a career in government and only heard about the FAA because her brother is a pilot.
She said agencies should encourage their current interns to share information about their experiences and federal opportunities with their circles.
“Encouraging interns to share with their networks what they’re doing, because we’re going to trust the people that we already know,” King said. “Everyone already has their network.”
Cory Schwarze landed an internship at Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Spallation Neutron Source, a research center that features the most intense pulsed neutron beams in the world. As a Tennessee local, he highlighted how Oak Ridge labs made it a priority to have local schools and colleges share pamphlets about their internship opportunities. “That’s how a lot of kids find out about it,” Schwarze said.
But finding the website where he could apply to the Oak Ridge position wasn’t as accessible. “There was a very special portal that you had to find and it was pretty difficult to find,” he said. He said having a one-stop portal for federal internships, like the one OPM rolled out earlier this year, “would be amazing.”
Anna Setzer started out as an intern in OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs and most recently landed a job at the Department of Transportation as part of the Pathways program for interns and recent graduates. She highlighted the need to be “persistent” to start a career in government, as she had to apply to agencies multiple times before hearing back.
“It’s sometimes a little hard to get in,” Setzer said. “And then there are a lot of different opportunities. So yes, you might not like ‘x’ agency, but you can always try a different agency within the federal government. But also knowing you don’t want to work in federal government is also an important thing to know. But you won’t know until you’ve tried it.”
The experience of being around “talented, smart and dedicated” public servants, she said, is something that stuck with her.
“Knowing that you’re working towards the public good, I think it’s something that propelled me into wanting to continue to stay in as I start my new role,” Setzer said.
Making the path into federal service more straightforward and seamless for people like Setzer will ultimately be the job of the White House and agencies as they execute the priorities in the PMA.
As OPM Director Kiran Ahuja put it at the outset of the webinar, “The experience of interns and early career hires is a microcosm of frankly what we’re trying to accomplish with the workforce priority itself.”