Government agency saves money with virtual intern program

The federal agency has opened up resources for other projects thanks to the virtual intern program.

The federal agency has opened up resources for other projects thanks to the virtual intern program.

With government debt becoming an increasingly prevalent source of concern among both American lawmakers and citizens, U.S. federal agencies are looking for ways to cut costs. Usually, trimming an agency’s budget means dropping programs or personnel, but one government organization is using technological advancements to reduce spending while maintaining its staff and projects.

Since 2001, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Dairy Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture has maintained a virtual intern program, allowing it to save invaluable resources. Interns who participate in the program spend a summer working at AMS Dairy’s Washington, D.C. office, then go back to their homes or universities while continuing to work with the agency remotely.

Keeping in touch
When the program first began, communication between the interns and AMS Dairy staff was done through emails and conference calls. However, with the technological advancements made over the past decade, communication channels have shifted to instant messaging and internet videoconferencing. Interns are even provided a government laptop to access the agency’s network and communicate with personnel. With standard computer monitoring software, AMS Dairy can limit access to sensitive data and avoid possible security breaches.

Cutting down on costs
In the past, students who excelled in the program and were offered multiple seasons or semesters worth of enrollment in the internship would have to travel and live in Washington, D.C. for each session, all on the government’s dime. The virtual program drops those costs and opens up funding for other projects.

Deputy Administrator of AMS Dairy Programs, Dana Coale told Government Technology, “it’s very expensive to bring students here to Washington, D.C., and spend a summer or semester…and then repeat that on a continual basis. Whereas if we can do that for one summer and then use the skills of that individual for the next two or three years, it certainly has a lot of value.”

Making internships more convenient
In addition to saving the agency money and resources in bringing students from across the country to AMS Dairy’s office and then housing and training them, the virtual program gives promising students a more convenient option for continuing their internship. If a student wanted to continue his internship but was reluctant to spend additional time away from home and school, he or she could continue working with AMS Dairy remotely.

Gaining recognition
The cutting-edge policy has garnered praise from institutions such as Harvard University’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, which honored the Virtual Intern Program as part of the school’s Bright Ideas initiative. AMS Dairy’s program was identified as one of 111 federal initiatives that creatively and effectively sought out alternative solutions to government issues.

Are virtual internships a valid alternative to in-office ones? Are interns who operate remotely being deprived of valuable work experience? Tell us what you think in the comments section below!

Matt Williams

A self-proclaimed ‘tech geek’, Matt has worked in technology for a decade and divides his time between blogging and working in IT. A huge New York Giants fan, when not watching football Matt gets his game on playing Call of Duty with his friends and other tech bloggers.