AHUJA: My first job after graduating college was with the federal government

My first job after graduating college was with the federal government. I was young and eager to make a difference, and Congress seemed like the perfect place to start. But I didn’t work amidst marble columns or beneath the Capitol dome — I was a district staffer in Georgia. I spent my time traveling rural and urban parts of the district helping constituents — some without even bare necessities like running water in their homes — access basic government services they were entitled to.

It takes a service-minded person to dedicate themselves to helping those most in need. It’s something I felt strongly about in those early years. From Congressional staffer, to law school student, to civil rights attorney at the Department of Justice, I remained focused on fighting inequality and injustice any way I could. There was no greater platform for my work than the federal government, but that doesn’t mean it was easy. 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.

OPM’s new Post-Secondary Student Hiring Authority is one way we’re doing exactly that. It allows post-secondary students who meet certain conditions to pursue paid positions across the federal government. Agencies can use the authority to make temporary appointments for up to one year, or term appointments lasting up to four years. These positions are eligible for up to the General Schedule (GS) 11 level pay, and can pave the way to a rewarding career in civil service.

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 Biden-Harris Administration is committed to expanding paid opportunities for students, and at OPM, we are working with our partners at OMB and in agencies across the federal government to make this a reality.

At the same time, this new authority will help address an imbalance within the federal workforce. Federal employees are far more likely to be decades into their professional journey than they are to be embarking on a new career. At OPM, we’re eager to show up-and-coming leaders that public service is a noble and rewarding career path where a bright future awaits.

As President Kennedy once said:

“Let the public service be a proud and lively career. And let every man and woman who works in any area of our national government, in any branch, at any level, be able to say with pride and with honor in future years: ‘I served the United States Government in that hour of our nation’s need.’”

More than two million civil servants continue to answer Kennedy’s call today. I like to say they’re in the business of achieving the unachievable — from curing diseases, to combatting climate change, to landing rovers on the surface of Mars, federal employees defy the odds to serve the public every single day. Some of our nation’s best and brightest minds deliver on these challenges, and OPM’s Post-Secondary Student Hiring Authority will help grow their teams and usher in new perspectives. This kind of strategic hiring allows us to create a workforce that doesn’t just meet our challenges for today — it lays the groundwork for all of us to thrive for decades to come.

-Kiran Ahuja, Director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management

Recruiting, retaining, and honoring the workforce that’s landing rovers on Mars, fighting climate change and cancer, and building this country back better.