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Federal Diary

Finalists Look to Reel In Agency Jobs

By Stephen Barr
Tuesday, March 29, 2005; Page B02

More than 630 finalists for the Presidential Management Fellows Program, one of the government's elite recruiting programs, gathered yesterday at the Washington Convention Center to begin three days of job interviews with federal agencies.

About 3,300 people applied for this year's class of fellows, one of the largest turnouts in recent years. Most of the finalists have completed master's, doctoral or law degrees, and Bush administration officials predicted yesterday that almost all will land a two-year appointment that probably will lead to an offer of a permanent federal job.

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Stephen Barr can be reached by e-mail at barrs@washpost.com.

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Dan G. Blair, acting director of the Office of Personnel Management, greeted the fellows yesterday with praise for public service -- terming it a noble calling and noting that many applicants in the audience would receive higher starting salaries in the private sector.

"We know you don't do it for the money but for love of your country," he said.

Blair told the fellows that each generation experiences "a defining moment," such as the Great Depression, the attack on Pearl Harbor or President John F. Kennedy's assassination. For many young people today, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, serve as the defining moment -- one that has underscored the importance of homeland security efforts to "keep people safe," he said.

In addition to the challenges presented by the 9/11 attacks, Blair said, the fellows will see substantial changes in the government in coming years. About half the civil service is projected to retire by 2008, providing opportunities for the fellows and putting pressure on agencies to plan for what kind of workforce they will need in the future, Blair suggested.

"If you are not an agent of change, I would dare say that government service is not your calling today," Blair said.

The fellows program -- previously known as the Presidential Management Intern Program -- received a boost in November 2003 when President Bush issued an executive order changing the program's name, removing an annual hiring cap of 400 positions and extending the program to agencies that operate outside regular civil service rules, such as intelligence and some law enforcement agencies.

The fellows began job interviews with agencies yesterday, and the interviews will continue through tomorrow. After signing on with an agency, the fellows will spend two years rotating through assignments that acquaint them with the array of work performed in their agency and hopefully groom them for a job on the management track.

Starting salaries begin at about $43,000. After two years, fellows will be eligible for salaries starting at more than $62,000 annually.

CBO to Study Law Enforcement Pay

The chairmen of congressional subcommittees that oversee the civil service have asked the Congressional Budget Office to study the compensation provided to federal law enforcement officers.

The request came from Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio) and Rep. Jon Porter (R-Nev.). They asked CBO to compare the pay and benefits of federal law enforcement officers against their counterparts in various metropolitan areas and to analyze recruitment and retention of federal officers.

Associations representing officers, criminal investigators and FBI agents have petitioned Congress for changes in their pay and retirement benefits, in part because the creation of the Department of Homeland Security merged personnel with varying benefits and pay scales.

An OPM report last year found "considerable and confusing differences" in pay and retirement benefits provided to law enforcement officers across the government.

OPM recommended that Congress grant the agency broad authority to establish a government-wide framework for law enforcement compensation. OPM suggested that the changes be made through regulation rather than law, a stance that has drawn opposition from some law enforcement associations until the Bush administration develops more details on possible compensation changes.

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E-mail: barrs@washpost.com


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