Washington, D.C.—With proposals pending in Congress for creating new government internship programs, the head of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) today warned against instituting programs that undercut longstanding merit-based hiring principles—citing as Exhibit A for that problem the Federal Career Intern Program (FCIP).
“The FCIP is not an intern program and should be terminated,” NTEU President Colleen M. Kelley told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management and the Federal Workforce.
The subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), was conducting a hearing on training, mentoring and interning in the federal government. Sen. Akaka has introduced a measure, S. 674, the Federal Supervisor Training Act, on that important subject.
President Kelley expressed her support for the bill. “We believe that supervisor training, accountability and development are pressing concerns for human capital management in the federal sector,” she said.
Further, she said, “the lack of proper training among managers and supervisors is responsible for some of the current problems facing the federal workforce.” One example, Kelley said, is sharply underscored by a Merit Systems Protection Board report which found little managerial understanding of the various hiring authorities and the different requirements tied to them—including the FCIP.
The NTEU leader asserted that continuing agency misuse of the FCIP has subverted its original training and development purpose to turn it into the hiring method of choice for many agencies, since it does not require adherence to competitive recruitment and selection procedures.
“The way the FCIP is being used flies in the face of the merit-based competitive system that has served our nation so well and led to creation and development of the world’s best civil service,” she said.
The FCIP was proposed and implemented on an interim basis in 2000; it became a permanent hiring authority under final OPM regulations in 2005. The intent was to create a limited-use special hiring authority designed to provide formally-structured, two-year training and development internships.
In its first year, some 400 employees were hired under the FCIP—a number that grew to 17,000 new hires in fiscal 2007. “Clearly, the numbers have grown dramatically,” President Kelley said, noting that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has for a number of years used the FCIP to hire all new CBP Officers and that the Internal Revenue Service has used it to hire such key tax enforcement personnel as Revenue Agents and Revenue Officers.
NTEU has an ongoing suit against the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) challenging its regulations implementing the FCIP, and last summer won a procedural victory allowing the case to proceed to hearing on the merits of the NTEU argument.
Broadly on the subject of internships, Kelley told the subcommittee that NTEU supports limited initiatives, including targeted internships and scholarships to recruit employees who have special fields of expertise that are in demand in the government. “It is NTEU’s position, “she said, “that current federal intern programs should be the building blocks for attracting talent to the government.”
As to its support for S. 674, Kelley said approval of the bill would help address not only the important issues of supervisor training, accountability and development, but in other ways as well, including broadening their knowledge of how to make the best use of the General Schedule pay system.
“Despite comments to the contrary,” she told the subcommittee, under the General Schedule, “non-performers can be denied pay increases, or terminated, and outstanding performers can be given many rewards.” She added: “Supervisors need more training on the many flexibilities currently available under that system.”
Kelley welcomed the measure’s call for agencies to develop, under the direction of OPM, competencies supervisors are expected to meet in managing employees. “This will help to ensure the effectiveness of the supervisor training programs.”
She added that NTEU would support adding to the bill provision to provide more training and mentoring to current frontline employees so they could advance their careers. “While sound managerial training is critical,” the NTEU leader said, “career advancement of frontline employees can also help greatly enhance the effectiveness of federal agencies.”
As the largest independent federal union, NTEU represents 150,000 employees in 31 agencies and departments.