Officials debate talent shortage

Officials debate talent shortage

GAO's David Walker wants cooperation.

Kay Cole James, director of the Office of Personnel Management, told federal human resource managers last week that they must strengthen the federal work force by following the president's lead.

'The work has changed, the worker has changed, the government has changed,' she said.

The OPM director, in a keynote address at a conference sponsored by the National Academy of Public Administration and OPM, said she counts on agency HR managers to support the changes.

The President's Management Council has said that each agency should look to itself to improve recruitment and retention.

'Everybody can want it, but it still will not happen unless you want it,' James said.
She expressed approval for legislation such as the Digital TechCorps bill [GCN, Aug. 13, Page 10] sponsored by Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.). The bill would permit employee exchanges between the government and the public sector. She also mentioned the Chief Information Officers Council's mentoring program.

James said people are not coming into the government for a lifelong career. She said recruitment should be easier for agencies and job candidates, and managers should be more flexible in their approach.

'We are not using the flexibilities we have,' James said.

She advocated telework, worker relocation and targeted buyouts to attract out-of-work dot-com employees.

Salaries should be based on performance and skill and not only on tenure, she said. The government has the same pay pattern it did in the 1940s, she added, and 'anything that's older than I am is probably due for a re-evaluation.'

But some in the packed auditorium at the University of Maryland's conference center in College Park, Md., did not agree with James' comments.

Janet Nelson, an HR manager at the Social Security Administration office in San Francisco, said, 'There's not a crisis.'

Nelson said she remembered Jim King, former director of OPM during the Clinton administration, complaining about the reverse kind of work force crisis'too many workers'that led to government buyouts in the 1990s.

Nelson said she attended the conference to get ideas. She pointed out technology vendors lining the corridor of the conference center to look for potential recruits.

'Our people are drowning' in work that could be done by automation, she said. 'The biggest obstacle [to recruitment] is learning what jobs are available.' She said she believes agencies need to get into the digital age to show the public what jobs are there for the taking. The government has been downsizing since the 1970s, she said, kicking federal employees out to make room for automation.

'The kinds of jobs we need are not the kinds of jobs we had before,' Nelson said.

Too many questions

SSA in San Francisco just completed an eight-year project giving all 7,000 workers PCs with Microsoft Windows operating systems and Internet connections, she said.

'The government's biggest problem is volume. It's like turning a battleship around,' Nelson said. 'It takes a lot of paddling.'

James said months pass between applying for a federal position, getting hired and starting work.

She said one applicant reported having to answer 150 essay questions. 'This kind of overkill is killing the job market,' James said.

If Federal Express can track a package, an agency should be able to track an application, she said. The federal government needs to increase its information technology work force by 20 percent in this decade, she said. Otherwise, there might be two positions open per candidate, because retirements will cut the employee count by half.

David Walker, the General Accounting Office's comptroller general, said he plans to look to international governments to find a solution.

'We're trying to partner more with other interested parties because we all have limited resources,' Walker said.

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