More Young People Lining Up for Government Jobs

Stephanie Caccomo, 24, outreach specialist at the FCC
Stephanie Caccomo, 24, outreach specialist at the FCC (Photo Courtesy of Stephanie Caccomo)
By Steve Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 26, 2009

The lines for the CIA were out the door at the spring career fair last week at George Mason University in Fairfax, and the Environmental Protection Agency and various Defense Department booths were doing booming business as well.

Two months after President Obama took office vowing to make federal service cool again, career services specialists report an increase among college students who want to work for the government.

"Lots and lots of students lined up for the federal government," said Alan C. More, employer in residence for U.S. government programs at GMU

"What we've seen across the board is an increased interest in government," said Tim McManus, vice president for education and outreach at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. "We're hearing from schools that they see government as an employer of choice. Government has been the afterthought option. It's no longer a second choice."

Amid the economic hard times, many students are as motivated by the desire for a steady job as by public service.

Christina Lee, a 25-year-old senior and English major at GMU, spoke to a CIA recruiter at the fair and was so intrigued by what she heard that over the weekend she submitted her résumé for a position as an intelligence analyst for the agency.

Lee said the troubled economy "definitely" contributes to her interest in the federal government. "With so many people having trouble finding jobs and keeping jobs, I'd like to know that when I get a job, it's secure," she said.

The government lacks hard data to measure how much progress it is making in attracting college-age applicants. The Office of Personnel Management does not track the number of college students or recent graduates who apply for federal jobs, said Michael Orenstein, a spokesman for the OPM.

Spokesmen for several federal agencies contacted also said they lack such data. "There's no tracking mechanism to distinguish whether the applicants are college students or college graduates," said Bill Adams, a spokesman for the Transportation Department.

But Orenstein said various indicators point to growing interest in federal service among college and graduate students. "It's probably a combination of everything -- the economy, greater attention to serving one's country, the Obama administration's appeal to younger individuals," he said.

Orenstein noted that there were more than 5,000 applicants for the Presidential Management Fellows program this year, the most in its history and a 40 percent increase over last year.

"The fact that we had a record number of applicants indicates we are communicating with graduate students and undergraduates about opportunities with the federal government, and probably correlates with additional interest in the federal government," he said.

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