The range of opportunities in government internships is as broad as the reach of government itself. The only factor which ties them together is that they are all offered through some branch of public government. The first thing that comes to mind when speaking of government internships is the Federal Government, but there are often internships available at state or even local municipal levels.
Directories of federal internships are available at places like Makingthedifference.org, Studentjobs.gov, or Washingtoninternship.gov. Sometimes state-sponsored universities and colleges may offer listings of state government intern positions. To explore local internships one may need to make contacts with the government employees themselves since not all positions are advertised.
The Stanford University Haas Center for Public Service, work-in-govt.stanford.edu, lists places to begin such a search. Remember to consider governments of more rural areas such as counties or townships, which may have unique opportunities you hadn’t yet considered.
Some of the specialities that may be available are law, journalism, public relations, policy, international relations, public health, education, business, accounting, security, arts, science or technology. Simply scanning a list of agencies which offer internships can spawn dozens of ideas. Some examples are the CIA, the Atomic Energy Agency, the Centers for Disease Control, the Federal Trade Commission, the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center, NASA, the National Park Service, the Smithsonian, or the Department of Labor.
On the level of local government, internships may focus more on such things as urban planning, local environmental issues, and downtown revitalization or development programs. Local internships which last more than a few weeks may rotate an intern through many of its departments. This provides a very broad base of experience, and may be more valuable than spending the time doing one specific task. At a local level, an intern is likely to have a greater chance of accomplishing something meaningful, perhaps even having a lasting effect on policy. However, for local governments which have not had experience in providing internships it may be necessary to request a mentor, and be sure that the position is coordinated with the school if academic credit is desired.