PSIP applicants face uncertainty following government shutdown

Monday, January 28, 2019 - 6:17pm

Public Service Intern Program coordinators talk to members about internships at a meeting at the Ford School Monday night.

Public Service Intern Program coordinators talk to members about internships at a meeting at the Ford School Monday night. Buy this photo
Claire Meingast/Daily

On Friday, President Donald Trump passed a continuing resolution proposed by Congress announcing the federal government would reopen for three weeks while negotiations over immigration policy continue.

Since the initial shutdown on Dec. 22, the absence of government funding has impacted several programs and departments at the University of Michigan, specifically publicly funded research projects and other areas dependent on federal government support.

Another affected group at the University has been the Public Service Internship Program, or PSIP. Each year, the program accepts more than 100 students interested in government work, preparing them for summer internships in Washington, D.C. Enrolled students are frequently put in contact with employers on Capitol Hill, the Smithsonian and within the federal bureaucracy.

According to PSIP Supervisor Lynn Halton, also an alum of the program, PSIP sees students all the way through the internship application process, and provides further guidance and accommodations once students begin their summer work.

“Once they’re hired for internships in D.C., they have housing, we connect them up with one-on-one alumni mentors and we plan policy talks and social events for them,” Halton said.

For undergraduates enrolled in PSIP, the first several months of the year are typically when internship applications open up and students begin looking into job opportunities. Due to the shutdown, Halton and other faculty advisors have been forced to contend with the difficulty of communicating with employers in the public sector.

“There isn’t staff there,” she said. “For the agencies that are closed, there is no one there to answer. If someone sends a resume, we don’t know if they’ve received it. The process has definitely been slowed by that.”

Ben Schuster, a Business sophomore in PSIP, has already submitted several applications through the University program. Schuster hopes to secure an internship in the Federal Reserve, a policy think tank or on Capitol Hill in the office of a U.S. senator.

“I’ve applied to a few places, and I haven’t heard back from one of them yet,” Schuster said. “It’s a little concerning, but it’s understandable.”

Schuster thinks this lack of response is because  maintaining internship programs is not necessarily the top priority for the countless government agencies PSIP partners with. Even with the newly passed continuing resolution, it still may take some time for agencies to pick up their work at full capacity.

Furthermore, it remains unclear if Democrats and Republicans will come to an agreement within the three-week time period, failure of which would result in a continued shutdown.

Because of this, Schuster explains, many of his peers have had to work around gaps in the system to ensure their applications reach the proper employers in Washington, D.C.

“One of my friends knew a woman who had a connection to a certain agency that he wanted to work for,” Schuster explained. “She attempted to go into the agency’s site to let people know that he was applying, and she was unable to do that because of the shutdown. It’s small things like that. And in terms of priorities, when the government shuts down, it’s more important to make sure workers are getting paid.”

Another PSIP student, LSA sophomore Maeve Skelly, echoed Schuster’s disillusionment with the difficulty of communicating with employers in the public sector.

“There’s definitely been a slowdown in terms of response time,” Skelly said. “A lot of students will email government programs about an internship and not hear back for a longer period of time.”

Nonetheless, during the last month, Halton and other faculty coordinators at PSIP were able to work around obstacles posed by the shutdown through the program’s numerous contacts in Washington, D.C.

Perhaps the most helpful resource for PSIP students has been the program’s connections with alumni. According to Halton, during the last 50 years, a number of bureaucrats, politicians and public-sector employers have passed through PSIP as undergraduates at the University of Michigan.

“There are two representatives in the U.S. House that are Michigan PSIP alums: Lauren Underwood from Illinois and Ted Deutch from Florida,” Halton said. “I’ve been in contact with both of their chiefs of staff and been trying to connect up so our students could be there. They both say that them being in public policy and the public arena has evolved from being in our program.”

Despite the uncertainty and obstacles faced during the last month, Halton remains optimistic. As she explains, the experience of working through roadblocks in government should be seen as a lesson for undergraduates heading down a career path in public service.

“From a career perspective, I think it is a good point for students to realize that working in the private sector is different from working in the public sector,” Halton said. “It’s kind of a learning opportunity to realize when you’re a public servant, things can be different — these things can happen.”