- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Office of Personnel Management was quick to apologize when officials wrongly told hundreds of applicants to its prestigious Presidential Management Fellows program that they’d been accepted as finalists back in February.

Not everybody was as quick to accept the office’s apology, however.

A handful of applicants made their displeasure about the embarrassing mistake clear in email correspondence they sent to the agency — emails The Washington Times obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

“No, that’s not okay and extremely unprofessional on your part,” one applicant wrote to agency officials. “Issuing an official notice of acceptance and then sending a follow up email the next day stating that it was in error is not only inhumane, but unacceptable.”

Another applicant wrote of telling family members and co-workers about being accepted, only to learn that it was all a big mistake.

“This is so embarrassing.”

The program calls itself a flagship leadership development program aimed at “developing a cadre of potential government leaders.”

Fellows, who are graduate students, are hired into federal agencies for two years with base salaries of up to $78,355, though actual salaries vary by geographic location, according to the agency. Fellows also receive classroom training and eventually a certificate of completion that “permits immediate appointment to a position in the competitive or excepted service and carries prestige anywhere you go thereafter,” according to the agency website.

Initially, OPM had sent out emails to about 300 applicants saying “Congratulations!” and informing them that they were finalists.

“While obtaining an appointment with a Federal Agency is not guaranteed, reaching Finalist status is quite an achievement.”

Later, officials issued another email saying that “an administrative error occurred that resulted in some semifinalists receiving multiple notices with conflicting information.”

“For those who receive erroneous notices, we apologize for the uncertainty this may have caused you.”

The error later prompted Republicans on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to send a letter in March to OPM Director John Berry seeking information on operations of the fellows program.

The OPM, which oversees the program, declined to release the names of applicants who complained in writing to the agency about the mistaken notifications, citing privacy concerns in a response letter to The Times.

One person wrote back thanking OPM for resolving the issue, but adding “this kind of situation can be avoided.”

“As I’m sure you understand, this is very frustrating, especially for those of us who were not selected, and especially in a year when federal hiring is very limited.”

Another applicant was decidedly more blunt: “How in the world can you send me an acceptance letter and then rescind it the next day? This is outrageous! I completely disagree with this final decision and demand for it to be reconsidered.”

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