Top of page

The Legal History of the Presidential Management Fellows Program

Share this post:

The following is a guest post by Sarah Friedman, a Presidential Management Fellow working in the Public Services Division at the Law Library of Congress.

I recently joined the Law Library of Congress for a developmental detail as part of the Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) program. I have benefited from a number of early career learning opportunities during my first year in the program and I wanted to delve deeper into the history of the laws, including executive orders and regulations, which made this professional development program possible.

The two-year PMF program is open to students who are about to graduate, or have recently graduated, with a graduate or professional degree. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) accepts applicants for the program each fall and selected finalists may apply for positions that are only available to PMFs at a number of federal agencies. Finalists who accept an appointment with a federal agency become fellows and, over the course of their fellowship, work with a senior-level mentor, participate in at least 160 hours of training, and complete at least one developmental assignment spanning four to six months in another office or agency. The mission of this program is “to recruit and develop a cadre of future government leaders from all segments of society,” and recent graduates are provided with an opportunity to develop their leadership skills with the federal government.

Black and white photograph of three women in long coats, hats, and heeled shoes walking into and infront of the Department of Commerce, taken from the perspective of the sidewalk, looking toward the building entrance.
Washington, D.C. Government employees entering the 14th Street and Constitution Avenue entrance of the Department of Commerce building at 9:30 a.m. 1942. John Ferrell, photographer. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, //

President Jimmy Carter established a program “to attract to the Federal service men and women of exceptional management potential who have received special training in planning and managing public programs and policies.” (Executive Order 12008). The program was initially known as the Presidential Management Intern (PMI) program when it was created by Executive Order 12008 in 1977. The PMI program was aimed at “outstanding individuals who have pursued a course of study oriented toward public management at a graduate level educational institution.” Executive Order 12008 set forth the framework of the program, including the requirement that participants be recent or soon-to-be-recent graduates from an advanced degree program, and the two-year period for the internship. The program was initially limited to only 500 interns. The length of the program and the goal of attracting recent graduates has remained unchanged through the years, but the cap on the number of PMIs per year and the educational qualifications for the program have evolved over time.

President Ronald Reagan issued two executive orders that updated some elements of the program. The first was Executive Order 12364 in 1982, which sought to attract applicants “from a variety of academic disciplines who have a clear interest in, and commitment to, a career in the analysis and management of public policies and programs.” This broadened the language of the previous executive order, which targeted students who studied public management. The executive order also decreased the number of new presidential management interns to 200 per year and required colleges and universities to nominate students for the program. Executive Order 12364 was amended in 1988 by President Reagan’s Executive Order 12645. This brief order increased the cap for presidential management interns to 400 per year “to improve the Presidential Management Intern Program by providing for the recruitment and selection of an increasing number of outstanding employees for careers in public sector management.”

Black and white photograph of President Jimmy Carter, smiling at the President's desk in the Oval Office, while holding onto documents, while an aid stands to his right.
[President Jimmy Carter working on a speech for television in the Oval Office of the White House, Washington, D.C.] February 2, 1977. Marion S. Trikosko, photographer. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, //
In 2003, the Presidential Management Interns Program was renamed the Presidential Management Fellows Program in President George W. Bush’s Executive Order 13318. This executive order required that PMFs “must have received, or must expect to receive soon thereafter, an appropriate advanced degree as defined by the Director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).” Unlike the previous executive orders, this order did not include a limit on the number of PMFs that could be appointed each year.

The most recent changes to the PMF Program were made by President Barack Obama in Executive Order 13562. The PMF program was brought under the umbrella of the Pathways Programs, which also included the newly created Internship Program and the Recent Graduates Program. This executive order specified that PMFs “must have received, within the preceding 2 years, a qualifying advanced degree,” which created more explicit parameters than the earlier executive orders requiring that a participant in the program must be about to graduate or have recently graduated.

President Obama’s executive order tasked OPM with promulgating regulations and implementing changes to the PMF program. OPM had the authority to establish a hiring cap for Pathways Programs, but it did not do so in the 2012 regulations. In contrast to earlier iterations of the program that limited the number of participants to a few hundred, the PMF Class of 2022 named 1,100 finalists, the largest finalist class in the program’s history. The OPM regulations also eliminated the requirement that schools nominate their students for the program, allowing for self-nomination, because there was concern that students at schools that were unfamiliar with the program or graduates who completed their degree two years prior to the application period could be placed at a disadvantage. This effort to expand the program to more participants from academic institutions around the country reflects the program’s ongoing commitment to attracting a diverse group of PMFs with varied backgrounds.

Over the course of the past four decades, four presidents have had a hand in developing the PMF program into what it is today. The program began with the narrow objective of hiring employees with training in planning and management of public programs, but today the PMF program attracts new public servants from a variety of academic disciplines, with approximately ninety-nine academic disciplines represented in the PMF finalist class of 2022. Although the program underwent several changes, throughout its history, the purpose of the program remained the same: to attract committed public servants and train them to become future leaders in the federal government.

Subscribe to In Custodia Legis – it’s free! – to receive interesting posts drawn from the Law Library of Congress’s vast collections and our staff’s expertise in U.S., foreign, and international law.


  1. I was named a White House Management Intern in 1979 and there were only 100 of us – 50 women and 50 men.

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.