Akhlaque Haque, Ph.D., says only five of his students have acquired a federal government job in his 12-plus years at UAB, and as the director of graduate studies in public administration, he’s got a big problem with that.

Akhlaque Haque will travel to Washington, D.C., Oct. 14 along with directors and deans from more than 200 universities to lobby Congress to pass two bills that would change internship-selection practices and improve the hiring process at the federal level.
Haque says 60 to 70 percent of his master of public administration (MPA) students secure jobs with non-profit agencies. These jobs are well-respected and important positions that pay well and draw on MPA graduates’ strengths in areas including grant management, budgeting, information management, fund raising, Web application and program evaluation.

However, MPA graduates also are proficient in the areas of public policy analysis, public budgeting, research methods and statistical analysis, geographic information systems, e-government applications, human resources management and ethics — traits Haque believes are essential for government to run smoothly on a day-to-day, week-to-week and year-to-year basis.

“Our students have the skills needed to become professionally competent leaders of public and non-profit organizations,” Haque says. “Unfortunately MPA students at UAB and around the country aren’t getting job opportunities at the federal government level when that’s exactly what they’ve been trained to do — manage almost every aspect of public service.”

Haque is traveling to Washington, D.C., Oct. 14 along with directors and deans from more than 200 universities to lobby Congress to pass two bills currently making their way through the U.S. House and Senate that would change the internship-selection practices and improve the hiring process at the federal level.

Haque hopes to meet with Alabama U.S. Rep. Artur Davis on the trip, and he will attend the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration’s (NASPAA) Deans & Directors Summit on Capitol Hill as part of the endeavor.

“This is a unique opportunity to change the way graduate students get hired and are brought into the federal government,” Haque says. “Our students are more interested in federal service than ever before, making this even more important.”

Aggressive agenda
There currently is an aggressive agenda for reform of the federal government’s human resources. Congress has introduced legislation, the Office of Personnel Management is overhauling its hiring, assessment and compensation mechanisms, and the Office of Management and Budget has been issuing directives about desired changes.

The two bills in Congress are exciting, Haque says, because it shows the government is aware that its practices need changes.

The first bill is H.R. 3264, which is designed to improve federal internship programs to facilitate hiring of full-time federal employees. If passed, the bill will require federal internship programs to undergo several changes, including:

• Appoint an internship coordinator within each agency and have their information publicly available on the Internet, along with the application procedures and deadlines for the program
• Establish and maintain a centralized electronic database that contains the names, contact information and relevant skills of individuals who have completed or are nearing completion of an internship program and are seeking full-time federal employment
• Enable those who complete an internship to be included in a non-competitive pool to be hired into a full-time federal government job

The second bill, S 736, is known as the Federal Hiring Process Improvement Act of 2009. The changes it calls for include:

• Take steps necessary to target highly qualified applicant pools with diverse backgrounds before posting job announcements
• Clearly and prominently display job announcements in strategic locations convenient to the targeted applicant pools
• Seek to develop relationships with targeted applicant pools to develop regular pipelines for high-quality applicants

“Each of these issues are specifically pertinent to our MPA graduates,” Haque says. “The situation in the federal government — in terms of understanding policy issues and solving problems — has been hampered by the lack of skills of the employees for quite some time.

“They have not been focusing on the requirements of those whom they are hiring,” he says. “They’re depending on the executive appointments to run the government, and the permanent employees are not the appointment ones. If you’re not recruiting the right people, you’ll have a generational problem within the government. I think these bills will fix that. Lobbying for them is really critical for us.”

Change the future
UAB, one of 240 universities accredited by NASPAA, has spent many resources to maintain the accreditation, enabling students to be better equipped to handle government issues.

Most of the training and access to jobs comes while students are in school, usually through the forms of internships and co-ops. The Presidential Management Fellowship is one of the options many UAB MPA students have pursued through the years, and a few have been selected. But many students who go for their final interviews have told Haque the recruiters are dominated by people other than MPA graduates, giving them a limited voice in the process.

Haque hopes these events will change that in the future. He has told his current students of his intentions to go to Washington, D.C., to lobby on their behalf, and he says they are excited.

“They want to lobby, too,” he says. “They’ve been asking me what they can do to help, which is fantastic. I love their enthusiasm. The bottom line to me is our students deserve a better shot in the process. If they have the opportunity to get in the door, I’m confident they are going to take advantage of it.”

Follow Akhalaque Haque’s trip to Washington, D.C. Oct. 14 at www.facebook.com/uabgreenmail.