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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Animal & Veterinary

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FDA Veterinarian Newsletter November/December 2001 Volume XVI, No VI

by Chris Middendorf, M.S.

On the third floor in the 7500 Building at Standish Place, amongst the staff of veterinarians in the Office of New Animal Drug Evaluation (ONADE), in the Division of Therapeutic Drugs for Non-Food Animals, a young intern works at updating information on Investigational New Animal Drugs (INADs). I am a Presidential Management Intern or PMI and I am now three months into a six-month rotation to CVM from the Office of the Commissioner. I spent three months at CVM's aquaculture facility in Laurel, MD prior to joining ONADE in mid-August. The PMI program has generated a lot of interest throughout CVM, as this program is relatively new to CVM.

The PMI program is designed to attract qualified individuals from a wide variety of academic disciplines to a career in the Federal Government. The PMI program provides a continuing source of graduate students to Federal Agencies who will help meet the future challenges of public service. The program's duration for an individual is two years, and at the end of the program the Agency has the option of converting the PMI to a regular full-time employee. During those two years, PMIs are given detailed training for their individual jobs and broad management training with a multitude of practical applications.

Interns under this program enter the Federal service and may be appointed without testing or further competition using a Direct Hire Authority. They are hired at the GS-9 level with all benefits available to status employees. They earn annual promotions and are converted at the GS-12 level when they complete the program. Rotations are an integral part of the PMI curriculum and vary between agencies and between Centers. For me, a six-month rotation to CVM is providing a broad view of the Center's operations.

Admission to the PMI program is competitive with about 1,800 students competing for 400 positions. Applying to the PMI program is also a one-time opportunity. Students may only apply in the academic year they are scheduled to graduate and must be nominated by their schools. Successful completion of their graduate program is required in order for students to enter on duty at a Federal agency. Currently FDA has nine of these "Elite" Presidential Interns on board or scheduled to come on board before the end of the year.

At first the program was limited to applicants from public management and administration graduate majors. However, the government realized there was a need for graduates with more diverse academic backgrounds and in the early 1980's the program was expanded to include nearly all graduate areas of study.

I received my M.S. in Animal Science from Auburn University, and I learned about the PMI program by accident. At the time, I was President of the Graduate Student Council at Auburn and was given information about the PMI program to disseminate to graduate students at the University. The application was very thorough. I was required to list all subject matters that I had taken for college credit and how many hours I took. I was also required to list any skills that I possessed such as foreign language proficiency.

That winter the applicants received letters stating that they were to report to a regional Federal Assessment Center. In my case it was the Federal building in downtown Atlanta. My experience was nearly identical to the thousand or so applicants that OPM would assess for the PMI class of 2000. The testing began early in the morning. When I arrived, I was ushered into a room where other people were waiting; this would be my assessment group. The assessment consisted of a writing exam, an impromptu speech, and a group exercise. Assessment panels were comprised of senior government administrators who evaluate the participants' ability to communicate and work within a group. Those students who were selected as PMI finalists are notified mid-March and invited to a job fair in Washington, DC, the second week of April.

At the PMI job fair I began to understand how lucky I was to be a PMI finalist. It appeared that every Agency in the Federal government was represented at the job fair and they all had jobs to offer on the spot. PMI finalists can be recruited into an agency through a Direct Hire Authority that eliminates the traditional long hiring procedures that agencies routinely use. The job fair is a seller's market with PMIs receiving multiple job offers. I received job offers from the Federal Aviation Agency, Social Security, and the Department of the Army, but I held out until I got an offer from FDA. Experiences such as this were common place at the job fair as Federal Agencies try to replenish a professional work force that edges closer to retirement each year.

Greg Chambers, an MPA graduate of The University of Colorado, describes his job fair experience as similar to mine and other PMI finalists. "The Job Fair was fast paced and overwhelming for me. I was exhausted at the end of each day due to the non-stop scheduling of interviews, off-site interviews and interviews at the actual Job Fair. At the fair I received offers for positions that matched my background probably because I primarily targeted HHS agencies and those involved with health care." Greg was heavily recruited by twelve different offices/agencies before eventually accepting an offer as a program analyst in FDA's Office of Planning.

"PMIs are appealing to an agency because they are well screened," explains Margie Dexter, one of the FDA recruiters at the job fair. "They have advanced degrees, high GPAs, and most are high achievers. These graduates have selected the Federal service as their employer of choice". The fact that PMIs are individuals who want to work for the government is encouraging to Federal managers who are facing what the General Accounting Office calls a "human capital crisis".

Once a PMI finalist has been hired by an agency, he or she attends a PMI orientation presented by OPM at the Management Training Facility in Shepherdstown, WV. During the 3-day orientation the PMIs are introduced to life in the Federal service and are placed into Career Development Groups (CDGs). CDGs serve a professional and social role. Members of CDGs plan a two-year course of professional development for the group with the help of a senior administrator assigned as an advisor. Members construct individual development plans that are specific for their career goals. The CDGs also plan social events to allow networking between the PMIs. Social events allow PMIs to meet many people with diverse educational backgrounds and provide them with contacts throughout the Federal Government. The PMI program fosters an "esprit de corps" that doesn't end after the participants have graduated from the program. There is a PMI alumni association that keeps networks alive and provides a common thread for this group of Federal employees throughout their careers.

I am glad I applied to the PMI program through my University. The PMI program has provided me with great learning opportunities, and I am able to significantly contribute to the Agency. I heartily recommend the program to managers and supervisors and to students as well. It is a good example of a program that is working well.

Chris Middendorf is a Presidential Management Intern in CVM's Office of New Animal Drug Evaluation.