A new lease on work

Interior program helps workers enrich careers

Marc MacKeigan, a 20-year commercial banking veteran, was burned out, bored and sick of long hours that kept him away from his family. He took inventory of his life as a corporate vice president and realized he did not want to be beholden to shareholders for another 20 years. That's when he decided to look for a job in government and began his search on the Office of Personnel Management's USAJobs Web site.

When he spotted a posting for the Interior Department's Governmentwide Acquisition Management Intern Program, which trains contract specialists, he applied.

They had an opening, but the coordinators were looking for someone who could complete the two-year internship in one year.

He pulled it off, graduating from the program last June, and MacKeigan is now an Interior contracting officer.

Interior officials say governmentwide acquisition management specialists are in short supply. Interns in the program rotate to several agencies, including the Department of Veterans Affairs, Customs and Border Protection, and the Environmental Protection Agency. At the end of two years, program officials place the interns permanently at one of those agencies.

"For me, in the private sector, my ultimate responsibility was to enhance the wealth of the shareholders," MacKeigan said. "Here, my ultimate responsibility is to act in the best interest of the American taxpayers. It's not to say that work here is a piece of cake, but the government does offer a better opportunity to strike a decent balance."

The Interior program, run by the Office of the Secretary, is one of three two-year internship programs. Since their inception in 2000, the programs have placed about 80 interns in Interior bureaus, the department's Office of the Secretary, and other departments and agencies.

The programs are highly selective. The management intern program in the secretary's office received 125 applications last year for five slots. A panel of government managers selects the interns.

Each internship program manager trains the interns, coordinates the rotations and consults on final placement. Throughout the program, representatives from the eight Interior bureaus meet to discuss the interns' progress.

"We don't like to work in a vacuum at all," said intern program director Lynn McPheeters, chief of DOI University's Leadership and Performance Division.

Several organizations within the department are responsible for developing the curriculum. A committee representing the Office of Financial Management and the Finance Officers Partnership developed the Financial Management Career Intern Program.

The result is a combination of more than 200 hours of formal classroom training, a variety of work assignments and required external rotations each year to another bureau. Financial management interns take classes through DOI University, the Treasury Department and Management Concepts, a course development company.

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Interning for Uncle Sam

Interior Department officials have developed three programs to help workers train to become federal contract specialists. Applicants must be U.S. citizens. Marc MacKeigan (at right), for example, became an Interior contracting officer after completing an internship program. Here are prerequisites for the three programs offered by Interior.

Governmentwide Acquisition Management Intern Program: Applicants must have completed at least four years of study at a college or university leading to a bachelor's degree.

Office of the Secretary Management Intern Program: Applicants must have a bachelor's degree or at least 24 semester hours in a combination of courses such as business, accounting and finance.

Financial Management Career Intern Program: Applicants must have a bachelor's degree.

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