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Federal Career Internship Program is anything but

"The FCIP is not an intern program in the way many people think of internships," he said. "For example, the FCIP is not a hiring mechanism for filling temporary jobs with students who will be returning to school at the end of their internships."

Instead, agencies use -- overuse and abuse, say critics -- the career intern program to get around some requirements of the regular competitive hiring process.

Critics and supporters agree that FCIP has grown quickly, from 411 hires in its first year, fiscal 2001, to 26,700 in fiscal 2009.

"We believe the growth is related to a very simple reason. Overall, it works well as a hiring authority," Palguta said. He added that although agencies may use FCIP to hire outside the competitive process, veterans' preference and merit system principles still apply.

Union leaders couldn't disagree more about the program.

The National Treasury Employees Union has legally challenged it and is critical of OPM for including FCIP on a Web page for students.

"The FCIP," said Barbara Atkin, NTEU's deputy general counsel, "is a perfect example of hiring gone awry."

She believes that FCIP turns the whole concept of an "internship" program on its head because some agencies use it "to hire nearly all frontline employees as 'interns.' This is not a program like the current Student Career Experience Program, which serves as a learning experience for students in college or graduate school."

"Rather, the FCIP is a hiring authority that allows agencies to hire without appropriate internal or external notice and without the same veterans' preference that would exist under a competitive appointment. It also circumvents the competitive examination process, which has been a pillar of fairness in the federal workforce."

President Obama has ordered OPM to review FCIP. Its days could be numbered. If it survives, the first thing to change is its name.

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