Senators Introduce Breakthrough Bill For Paid Internships, Push Diverse Recruitment At State Department

This week, U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Tim Scott (R-SC) introduced a bipartisan bill, the Department of State Student Internship Program Act, to tackle issues of equity as part of the State Department’s signature internship program. The bill pushes for paid internship opportunities to provide minimum wage as well as housing and travel stipends.

Internships at the U.S. State Department have long attracted discussion for their mostly unpaid nature. The lack of financial compensation for interns has been linked to lower recruitment of diverse talent for these coveted positions.

Internships’ failure to provide travel or housing assistance to young recruits in Washington D.C. or abroad may be a limiting factor for young people from low income backgrounds. This may translate into lower number of diverse candidates to advance into full time employment at the Department.

Internships are a major pipeline for full time positions. “Although the overall proportion of people of color working within the department full-time increased from 28 to 32 percent from 2002 to 2018, the proportion of women of color was lowest at management and executive levels,” the Office of Senator Booker said on Tuesday. Also, the proportion of African Americans and women employed at the Department declined in the same time horizon.

“This act will ensure we are recruiting the best and brightest—a workforce that truly reflects the American people,” Senator Scott said.

“Having a diplomatic corps that represents the diverse makeup of the United States will increase the institutional knowledge and capacity of the State Department and improve our image abroad,” Senator Booker said.

This is not the first time that a bill on this topic has been introduced. In February, Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX-20) reintroduced his bipartisan legislation guaranteeing financial support and paid internships at the U.S. State Department. “This commonsense legislation will make internships at the State Department fairer, more rewarding, and more open to all,” said the Representative.

Over a dozen organizations have put support behind the cause: The American Academy of DiplomacyPay Our InternsWomen of Color Advancing Peace and SecurityInclusive AmericaForeign Policy for AmericaTruman National Security Project18by Votethe Center for American Progress.

The issue has also gained popular attention at various occasions. Unpaid internships began trending on Twitter with more than 60,000 tweets posted on Tuesday, PR Newswire said. It is a continued testament to the imperative for creating equitable professional opportunity for young people aiming to enter public service professions.