COVID-19 Impact on Federal Recruiting and Hiring

The Partnership for Public Service has been closely monitoring the COVID-19 situation and how it may impact the work of federal agencies and students seeking federal internships and jobs. In these unprecedented times, the Partnership remains committed to supporting our nation’s civil servants as they respond to this public health crisis. We are reminded now more than ever of the importance of inspiring the nation’s brightest young people to enter government and the need to build a strong federal workforce. We thank you for all you are doing to support students during this time.

While the situation is rapidly evolving and the ultimate impact remains unclear, we hope to answer some common questions around the current status of federal internships and post-graduation employment.

The Partnership has resources to help federal employees and those interested in public service navigate these uncertain times. Over the past few weeks, we have released new episodes of our podcast, Transition Lab, featuring Admiral Thad Allen and author Michael Lewis on the importance of federal workers and government response to crisis. Our blog also features information and tips for adjusting to life during the pandemic.

Q. What is the impact of COVID-19 on the federal workforce?
A.

 The current operating status of federal offices nationwide is “open with maximum telework flexibilities to all current telework eligible employees, pursuant to direction from agency heads.” During this time, federal agencies are continuing operations that are critical to their mission while respecting CDC policy on social distancing. Agency heads are providing further direction on the implementation of telework policies. We’ve heard that many agencies have moved to 75 or nearly 100 percent telework, but there is variation based on where offices are located. There are also some agencies where the sensitive nature of the work prevents employees from teleworking. For more information about the impact on the federal workforce and a list of all official guidance from OPM click here.

Q. Are the Pathways Programs affected?
A.

 Pathways Internship and Recent Graduate Programs: Agencies are continuing to hire Pathways Interns and Recent Graduates. When applying for positions on USAJOBS.gov, typically students should look in the Job Opportunity Announcement (JOA) for language saying that the position is “telework eligible.” Given the broad telework status across federal government, there is likely more flexibility on positions not traditionally telework eligible. As a result, we encourage students to apply for positions that are of interest to them. Applicants can also reach out to the Pathways Program Officers (PPOs) for the individual agencies to ask questions about the status of hiring for these positions. PPO’s should be listed on most agency websites. But given the volume of outreach during this time, applicants should still submit their applications in case response times are slower.

Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF) Program: Current PMF finalists should continue to look at OPM’s Talent Management System and apply for positions listed there. They are also encouraged to search for positions on USAJOBS.gov and then contact the agency to ask if they might be willing to make the position available for a PMF. OPM postponed the in-person hiring fair and, instead, will be hosting virtual hiring events in the near future. Finalists should continue to monitor www.pmf.gov for more information. The application for the Class of 2021 is still on track to open in the fall.

Q. Are federal agencies still able to host student volunteers or interns who are paid by a source other than the federal government (e.g., a university stipend)? Will interns be able to telework if they cannot physically be at agencies?
A.

Some unpaid interns are eligible for telework, while others are not. These decisions vary by agency. Agencies that are not able to offer telework to interns have several options on how to proceed. Some have paused hiring for summer 2020 internship programs altogether. Others are continuing to hire interns, with offers being conditional on federal government resuming on-site operations by the start of the term.

The Partnership is closely monitoring the situation for its own Rosenthal Fellowship and Call to Serve Internship programs. So far, roughly half of agencies have indicated they are able to onboard interns remotely and have them telework this summer. The other half have indicated they are not equipped to have interns work remotely. We will continue to keep in close contact with these students and federal agencies as the summer approaches regarding their status. We are also preparing to deliver our programing virtually. The best recommendation for students preparing for internships is to contact their agency directly. Because there is so much variation across the federal government, it is important for students to proactively ask how their specific internship might be impacted during this increased telework period.

Q. Are there other virtual internship programs students can apply for?
A.

 Yes, students interested in gaining federal experience during this period of maximum telework may benefit from the Virtual Student Federal Service program (VSFS).

VSFS is an 8-month remote internship program that offers students the opportunity to work on a variety of topics from wherever they are. The program runs from September-May of each year. The application for the next cycle will be open from July 1 – July 31. Opportunities will be available on USAJOBS by searching “VSFS” or “Virtual Student Federal Service.”

For more information, please visit https://vsfs.state.gov.

Q. More generally, what is the impact of COVID-19 on entry-level hiring? Are agencies still hiring students who are graduating this spring?
A.

Agencies are still hiring! In order to preserve their essential functions, agencies have been instructed to use available technology to hire and onboard employees virtually. Again, typically, applicants are encouraged to look at the JOA to determine if the position is telework eligible. However, given the current situation, there is increased telework flexibility across the federal government and exceptions are being made for some positions that are generally not eligible. We encourage applicants to go ahead and apply for positions, even if they are not designated as telework eligible in the JOA.

Some agencies anticipate hiring additional employees to aid in the coronavirus response. According to Government Executive, agencies such as the Agriculture Department, the Transportation Department, Customs and Border Protection, the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services already have plans to increase staff during this time.

In response, OPM has granted agencies authority to use a faster, more flexible authority to bring on employees that may aid in the response to COVID-19. This authority may only be used to fill positions directly related to the emergency. We also anticipate more short-term hiring through term or temporary appointments. A new page has been created on USAJOBS.gov to view positions available to support the COVID-19 response. You can find these positions here.

Finally, OPM has also provided guidance that agencies may have more flexibility in providing recruitment, relocation and retention incentives to address critical needs related to COVID-19.

Q. What happens with any security clearance processes that are in progress?
A.

 Vetting processes are continuing to be conducted virtually. The main way this process is being impacted is by the closing of some fingerprinting stations across the country, which may slow down the process. In order to combat this, agencies that are unable to collect fingerprints may continue vetting and place fingerprinting on hold until it is feasible to do so. For more guidance, please see OPM’s memo on personnel vetting during the maximum telework period.