The much sought-after White House internship program affords 147 participants the opportunity to work in close proximity with the most powerful politicians in the world. If you can afford the opportunity, that is, since the White House interns are unpaid.
In 2010, the Department of Labor issued “guidelines” under The Fair Labor Standards Act that determine if an intern may be unpaid. Through the Department of Labor, the Obama administration championed what they deemed to be fair standards for the unpaid interns of private institutions. The question left to be answered is whether the White House, a public institution, will live up to the same standards they set for private institutions.
According to the Fair Pay Campaign—they don’t. "We have a minimum wage law in this country,” says Mikey Franklin, leader of the Campaign. “And just because you call someone an intern doesn't mean you get out of it."
The Obama administration is a good litmus test for the difficulties of adhering to the Fair Labor Standards Act. Specifically, the act states, “The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern.” This would probably rule out everything from filing documents to making coffee, or really any useful activity around an office. It is hard to imagine the White House interns merely look on and provide no service whatsoever. Yet, this is exactly what the Fair Labor Standards Act dictates. In fact, the Act goes on to say of an office with unpaid interns: “On occasion its operations may actually be impeded.”
This double standard between unpaid interns in the White House and in the private sector has drawn the ire of both proponents and opponents of unpaid internship programs. Unlike the Fair Pay Campaign, Rep. Dan Issa supports unpaid internships. However he also points out the White House’s hypocrisy. "If the government can't do it, certainly it's not fair to ask the private sector to do it in this case."