Students furthering their education beyond a high school diploma could soon have an easier path to simultaneously working a paid internship with the federal government, under a hiring authority rule published Aug. 17 by the Office of Personnel Management.

The hiring authority for post-secondary students pursuing a bachelor’s or graduate degree allows agencies to appoint students to competitive service positions at GS-11 or below on a temporary or term basis while those students complete their degrees.

Students expected to finish their degrees within a year can be placed on temporary appointments, which last for one year, with the option to extend for an additional year if the student requires more time to complete their education.

Students who plan to be in post-secondary education for more than one year can be hired under a term appointment that lasts between one to four years and can be extended up to the four year limit.

“The intent of the program is for students to either attend classes, work at the agency or both,” the rule states.

“An agency must terminate the appointment of a student after completion of the individual’s academic course of study, unless the student is noncompetitively converted to a permanent position in the competitive service.”

Students on temporary appointments cannot be promoted, while students on term appointments may be converted to a higher GS level if their skills and qualifications match the requirements for the new level.

“This statute provides federal agencies with authority to hire interns under a new scheme designed to facilitate an effective pipeline of new prospects for potential permanent appointment to help sustain the federal workforce,” the proposed rule states.

“This regulation allows agencies to make appointments of post-secondary students directly into the competitive service positions, without regard to rating, ranking, veterans’ preference, and public notice provisions.”

OPM Director Kiran Ahuja likened the new authority to her own desire to work for the federal government at the beginning of her career.

“I remember wishing at the time for stronger pathways to chart a career in federal service. Now, as director of the Office of Personnel Management, I’m working to deliver on the opportunities I was so eager for all those years ago,” Ahuja wrote in a Medium post about the new authority.

“Often times, opportunities like this are locked behind financial barriers. When the gateway to a federal career is an unpaid internship, the most likely people to make it through are the ones who can afford to work for free. The Post-Secondary Student Hiring Authority is one way we’re preventing that outcome, extending the opportunity of a federal career to Americans of all walks of life, and welcoming a diversity of backgrounds, experiences, and viewpoints.”

The new hiring authority was first established under the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2019, though OPM had to issue regulations before its implementation. The change follows recent recommendations that the federal government expand its paid internship program to sustain its workforce.

The internship hiring authority allows agencies to offer participants conversion into a permanent position upon completion of their degree, with their nonpermanent work creditable toward career tenure.

The new hiring authority rules will go into effect Sept. 17, though people can submit comments through the Federal eRulemaking Portal until Oct. 17.

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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