INTERNAUT

Training gets lip service'but money?

Shawn P. McCarthy

Training initiatives now under way should help the government over two big obstacles: broadening electronic services and guarding against cyberterrorism. The question is, will Congress fork over enough money to make a real difference?

By now, most feds have heard of HR 3924, the Freedom to Telecommute Act, and HR 3843, the Federal IT Workforce and Acquisition Improvement Act. The latter bill would streamline acquisition and free more agency tech staff from road-clogging commutes.

Feds with an itch for wider knowledge should pay attention to the IT exchange provision. It would place hundreds of private-sector employees with excellent IT skills in temporary assignments at federal agencies. In turn, the agencies would lend back some of their own staff in exchanges lasting up to two years.

That's one way to alleviate the shortage without asking people to sign up for a permanent change. Now that perhaps half of the federal IT work force is eligible to retire by 2006, there's a certain urgency about finding skilled replacements, particularly with experience building secure e-services.

As one of the Office of Management and Budget's 24 e-government initiatives, the Office of Personnel Management's e-training plan would make sure federal workers get the skill sets to build and maintain better systems.

For fiscal 2003, the administration proposes $45 million for interagency e-government projects. The president's fiscal 2002 supplemental budget request to fight terrorism asks $550 million to boost the National Emergency Grant program, which would supplement workers' incomes and give training.

All such programs to exchange or train workers have certain built-in drawbacks:

  • Security clearances: Can they be turned around quickly enough?

  • Favoritism: Would companies that loaned employees have an inside edge in bidding on contracts?

  • Workload: How easy will it be to cover the duties of loaned employees?

    These potential problems can be handled. But none of the programs will work if there isn't enough money to tackle the associated tasks.

    Shawn P. McCarthy designs products for a Web search engine provider. E-mail him at smccarthy@lycos-inc.com.
  • About the Author

    Shawn McCarthy, a former writer for GCN, is senior analyst and program manager for government IT opportunities at IDC.

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