NLPES Question of the Month

November/December 2001

Does your office have internships--and, if so, how have you incorporated interns into your evaluation and performance audit work?


Lisa Kieffer, Georgia Department of Audits

Two years ago, we began offering a summer internship and have been very pleased with the results. The internship was envisioned as a recruiting tool (to expose students from particular Masters' programs to our job) with the hope that we would also receive valuable work from the interns during their tenure. It appears to be working in both ways.

Each spring we developed a plan for each intern that spanned the three months they would work with us. The plan was designed to ensure they received exposure to a preliminary survey, an audit, and a follow-up project. The intention has been to expose them to all aspects of the job so that they have a full understanding of the job requirements and duties. Each intern is assigned to an Audit Supervisor or Audit Manager. The Supervisor or Manager then decides which projects, and with which teams, the intern will work. This past summer, our interns spent the majority of their time working on performance audits. They were introduced to the project just as a new team member would be and were given similar responsibilities. As their proficiency increased, so did their responsibilities.

We have hired MPA and MBA candidates who have completed their first year of class work. By doing so, the interns hold at least a Bachelors Degree, which is required of full time staff; hiring only masters candidates eliminates questions from auditees regarding the interns' credentials to work on a project. We began the program working with the University of Georgia's MPA program. Most recently, we have begun promoting the internship at job fairs and have had candidates from several other schools as well. Interns are paid on an hourly basis ($12/hour last summer) and do not receive vacation pay or benefits.

Kerry Fitzgerald, Louisiana

Our office uses interns quite a bit. The interns work right alongside the regular auditors and do all of the same work that the auditors do. They do not just do copying and running errands, so it is a very good learning experience for them, and it is cheap labor for us. We pay them $10 per hour, and they usually work about 20 hours per week. We let them schedule their work around their class schedules.

For our Financial and Compliance Audit Division, the interns must be enrolled in undergrad school (this division does not require a masters degree for fulltime employment), but for our Performance Audit Division, the interns must be enrolled in graduate school (the Performance Audit Division requires a CPA or Masters Degree for fulltime employment). Some of the interns in the Performance Audit Division must complete an internship for their academic degrees; others do not have this requirement. It depends on what program they are in.

One way we get interns is through word of mouth. Often members of our staff who are recent graduates know of students who are looking for internships. Also, we get them through contacts with professors at the 2 universities here in town. The professors will announce in class that internships are available if we ask them to. In addition, we sometimes do presentations to classes as the invitation of the professors, and in these presentations we mention that internships are available. In addition, LSU has a premiere program in Internal Auditing, and we have recently stepped up our recruiting efforts with the professor in charge of this program. Although most of the students from this program accept very high paying jobs elsewhere in private industry (New York, overseas, etc.) , we do come across some from time to time who prefer to stay in this area and/or do government work.

Overall, the intern program has been a very successful one for us. Often our interns chose to become fulltime employees with us after they graduate, so they come on board already trained to a great extent, and can get straight to work. And as I said, they are cheap labor for us during their internships - we pay no benefits or overtime, and their hourly rate is affordable to us yet considered "good pay" for them.

Rick Riggs, Kansas

Each summer we get an intern from the Kansas State graduate program in public administration. This person's main job each year is to work on our annual follow-up report, contacting the previous year's auditees to see what they've done to implement our recommendations. This takes several weeks. In addition, with a staff of only 22, there are always projects and initiatives that need an extra warm body. Here are some of the interns' projects over the last few years:
    • Web site development
    • Developing an evaluation document and job description for the Post Auditor
    • Preparing research and testimony for a revision/expansion of the state's Whistleblower Law
    • Converting and preparing materials for our intranet knowledge-base of audit procedures and practices
    You get the idea. Each of these tasks are fairly labor-intensive, and need an eager somebody who can devote several days or weeks to their completion.

    We also use interns occasionally for data entry, survey analysis, and so forth, but otherwise we don't use them for audit work. Also, one of the things the University and the interns like about our agency for an internship is that we give the interns meaningful duties, and don't use them primarily for grunt work.

James Barber, Mississippi

PEER has used interns for quite some time. Some years ago our Board of Trustees for State Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL) had an intern program where they would pay for masters level students to intern in a government agency for a semester--kinda like a co-op program. Most of the students were pursuing degrees in public administration or political science. PEER began participating in that program from the very beginning. The interns typically worked with PEER during a fall or spring semester and received college credit for their internship. In most cases, the interns were required to write some sort of a paper about their intern experience. Several years ago, IHL suspended the program due to budget constraints. They agreed to continue placing students but could not fund their internships.

With the demise of state funding from IHL, PEER began 'hiring' interns on a contractual basis. Most of these interns work for us during the summer when they typically are not in school. We pay the interns $1,200 per month. The downside to this arrangement is that the students do not receive college credit for their internship.

PEER attempts to incorporate each intern into the general flow of work. Interns who work during the spring when the legislature is in session are given short-term legislative assistance assignments as well background investigations of gubernatorial appointees. Those interns who work during the fall are typically assigned to a project team and expected to perform as other PEER staff. The long and short is that we treat interns as we would any staff but provide them very close supervision.

To date, PEER's involvement with interns has been fairly successful. We have employed several of our interns after they received their degree.

Byron Brown, Florida

The Florida Legislature's OPPAGA has placed a high value on developing a quality internship program. We have two types of "interns":
    • Part-time interns who work at OPPAGA while attending graduate school at FSU or FAMU. The students may or may not receive internship credit for their work at OPPAGA. They will typically work 20 hours per week, and we invite them to return on a semester-by-semester basis depending upon their performance and our budget. Currently, we have 5 part-time interns, although we have had as many as 12 in the past.
    • Summer interns from schools outside of Tallahassee, in which the graduate student comes to Tallahassee for 10 to 12 weeks to work full time during the summer. This is a highly competitive program, and we typically have between 2 and 4 summer interns.
    With all of our graduate students, we try to balance three goals:
    • Accomplishing our workload;
    • Providing a quality training experience that will benefit their career, wherever they eventually wind up; and
    • Recruiting and developing students who are likely to become good analysts after graduation.
    As much as possible, we assign each graduate student to work on a team with one or more policy analysts, so that the student learns the nature of the work of an analyst in our office. As a team member, the graduate student will participate in interviews and team meetings, and help collect and analyze data that the team is developing for the report. He will also sit in on any training opportunities that we provide to our other analysts.

    Occasionally, the graduate students will have more task-oriented than team-oriented assignments. They may be assigned to help with a major data collection/analysis effort (i.e. a survey). Depending on the phase of our various projects, the graduate student may help several teams with a variety of efforts. Our staff seem to like to use the graduate students for such things as:

    • internet background research,
    • telephone surveys of other states to find out what is happening with regard to specific issues,
    • spreadsheet or database work,
    • survey logistics, and
    • work-paper organization.
    In addition, we try to provide the full-time summer interns a more independent assignment such as a statutorily required 18-month follow-up of a previously completed project. This work results in a report that the student can present at their institution as product of the summer experience.

    In addition to these graduate student positions, we also employ two undergraduate students on a part-time basis. One is a Management Information Systems specialist, who assists us with a variety of web-related activities. The second undergraduate student performs a variety of the support functions, such as distributing the mail, running delivery and pickup errands, and making copies. This enables us to minimize the extent to which we use our graduate students for these "less desirable" non-analytical tasks.

Cheryle Broom, King County, Washington

The King County Auditor's Office has incorporated interns into its audit and evaluation work. Individuals are typically hired for a one-year internship working fulltime during the summer months and part-time (minimum, of average, of 20 hours a week) during the school year. For the last intern hiring process, we received an excellent response from students in local MPA programs so the process was quite competitive. Interns are assigned to audit teams and conduct portions of the audit work from planning through report development. Assignments are based on time availability and, in particular, on skills and interests. Team leaders and members work with the intern to provide supervision on the project, as needed, and to otherwise mentor the person in how the office conducts audits and other studies. Overall we have found our internship program to be mutually rewarding and have appreciated the contribution interns have made to achieving our work program and mission. With a willingness to ask questions about practices that we may take for granted, interns fill a unique niche in the office.

Steve Hopson, Texas Sunset Advisory Commission

The Texas Sunset Advisory Commission does offer an internship program. We view the program primarily as a recruiting tool . While we hope to get some assistance with our workload, our goal is to gain good future staff members who have exposure to our analysis techniques. We assign interns to teams of policy analysts who are conducting state agency Sunset reviews. Our interns generally receive a monthly stipend.

Our primary sources of interns are the graduate schools of public policy located in Texas: the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, and the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University.

Because Texas has a biennial Legislature, the work of the Sunset Commission is also biennial-we review agencies in non-legislative years and support Sunset bills during legislative sessions. Because of the cyclical nature of our work, we do not accept interns in legislative years. This policy plus the academic plans of our primary feeder schools limits our intern program to the summers of even-numbered years.

Sylvia Hensley, California State Auditor's Office

At the California State Auditor, we have a summer internship program as well as an academic year program. For our summer intern program, our goal is to have our interns work on several audits, at different phases, over the course of the 10+ weeks that they're on board with us. By using this staffing model, the interns better appreciate the variety of audit subject matter and phases of an audit (i.e., planning, fieldwork, report writing/processing, etc.).

In comparison, our academic year interns are assigned to a particular audit as if they were a full-time employee. Like the summer interns, the academic year interns are exposed to the variety of subject matter and phases of an audit but their experience isn't as condensed since the length of their internship is longer than that of the summer program.

Although our interns earn approximately $8 to $15 an hour (depending upon their level of education), the real "pay off" is that we will extend an offer to them at the end of their internship, provided that they've had a successful experience with us, of course.

We view our internship program as not only a means to convert interns into full-time employees, but as a marketing tool for our office when the interns return to campus.

Jane Thesing, South Carolina

Many years ago the our office participated in an internship program where we took interns from the University of South Carolina MPA program in a formal internship program. The interns got credit for their work and we used them as assistant auditors. However, after a couple of bad experiences (some really incompetent interns), we stopped doing that and have relied on a rather ad hoc intern program. We try to hire part time (15 hours a week or so) help and recruit from the local universities. We prefer graduate students, but don't confine ourselves to MPA candidates. We start the interns with general office assistant tasks (including errands, making copies, filing, etc.), and gradually work them into audit work. Their duties might include data entry, verifying spreadsheets, calling other states, Internet searches, and assisting auditors in the field. They also proofread and offer editorial suggestions if their talents lie in that area. Our interns have tended to stay with us for 1-2 years and have become valued members of our staff. Though our pay is not high ($8 per hour currently), we have not had trouble getting and keeping good people. Maybe we are just lucky or maybe this is just a great place to work!

Keith A. Slade, U.S. General Accounting Office

Here is a brief description of the U.S. GAO's internship program. For more information please see the GAO Student Intern position announcement on GAO's website (www.gao.gov).

Most GAO internships occur during the summer as part of a graduate degree program. There are limited assignments during the academic year. Undergraduate students with outstanding qualifications are considered. Students may be selected from a variety of academic disciplines such as public policy/administration, accounting, business administration, computer science, management information systems, human resources, economics, mathematics, statistics, and social sciences.

Interns are appointed at the GS-4, 5, 7, or 9 levels depending on the number of semester hours or quarter hours completed when selected. Salaries range from about $1,800 at the GS-4 level to about $3,000 per month at the GS-9 level. (Pay rates are subject to change with annual cost of living increases.) If interns are appointed to a position for more than 90 days, they earn annual and sick leave. Other benefits include training programs, seminars, and career counseling. GAO also offers a smoke free environment. GAO may noncompetitively appoint interns to permanent positions after graduation, subject to satisfactory performance and budgetary constraints.

Interns may be placed throughout our Washington, DC headquarters and field offices as well as mission support positions in staff offices. Our field offices are located in 11 cities throughout the United States: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Dayton, Denver, Huntsville, Los Angeles, Norfolk, San Francisco, and Seattle.

GAO Student Interns work primarily as Analysts closely supervised by senior staff members. They participate in planning and conducting reviews of agency programs and, in some cases, internal operations of individual agencies. Some opportunities for placement in other positions, notably Communications Analysts, Information Technology Specialists, or Auditors, may exist for interns with appropriate academic backgrounds. Subject areas for intern positions include the entire spectrum of federal activities, such as, health care, housing and urban development, tax policy and administration, national security and international relations, financial management, natural resources and the environment, and mission support positions.

Interns are expected to support GAO policies and regulations and adhere to generally accepted government auditing standards. They are also expected to promote collaborative efforts to satisfy customer needs, promote teamwork, communicate openly and candidly in large and small group settings, employ techniques for problem solving and decision making, exercise good writing skills, and ensure that the principles of equal opportunity are properly observed.

GAO's support of Congress includes: evaluating federal policies and the performance of agencies and programs to determine how well they are working; overseeing government operations through financial and other management audits to determine whether public funds are being spent efficiently, effectively, and in accordance with applicable laws; conducting policy analysis to assess needed actions and the implications of proposed actions; and providing legal opinions to determine compliance of federal agencies with established laws and regulations.

Nearly all of our work is requested by Congress, or mandated in legislation. Our role is both to meet short-term, immediate needs for information and to help the Congress better understand issues that are newly emerging, longer-term in nature, and broad in scope, cutting across the government.

Jason Wahl, North Dakota

The Office of the State Auditor does not have any internships available for performance audit work. There are internships available with the office but there are ones on the financial and political subdivision side (which I'm not involved with).

John Norris, Alabama Department of Examiners of Public Accounts

At our audit shop, we do not use interns. We have employed cooperative education students and summer workers who are placed according to their capabilities, but no formal intern program.