Govt. needs more IT workers

As the global market for IT workers grows increasingly competitive, federal, state and
local governments can't seem to attract enough of them. And sky-high salaries in the
private sector are driving many government IT workers into corporate offices.


"This has always been a problem. It's now an acute problem," said Justice
Department chief information officer Mark A. Boster. "There's no such thing as DOJ
stock options. So what do I offer? I offer a beginning salary that is probably $15,000
less. I don't have the benefits package and the bonus programs and the salary increases
that some of these people are looking at," he said.


Boster said he sees no good solution on the horizon.


"We just cannot compete," said one IT executive, who faces the problem every
day. "The expectation is that government employees will do inherently governmental
work."


Government IT executives say a new high-tech work force will have to be created by
retraining current government employees, a concept that has received support from Rep.
Connie A. Morella (R-Md.), chairwoman of the House Science Subcommittee on Technology.


But at least one CIO says retraining is not enough. "You're always training
internally," said Washington state CIO Steve Kolodney, "but that's no way to
build the skill set you need."


The market may be great news for IT workers, but government systems managers must
increasingly use outsourcing to get projects completed. The shortage of skilled workers in
government can lead to failed projects and inefficient systems. As government becomes more
dependent on technology, those failures will likely have great impact.


The government is seen as a good place to begin a career, not build one, Kolodney said.
After IT workers get a handle on their craft, he said, they move to the private sector.


Government isn't the only sector feeling the IT pinch. The Commerce Department's Office
of Technology Policy, in this month's update of a report issued last year [GCN ,
Oct. 27, 1997, Page 58], said more than 1.3 million computer scientists and engineers,
systems analysts and computer programmers will be needed in the United States between 1996
and 2006, an average of 137,800 per year.


Workers are needed to fill 1.1 million newly created jobs and replace the 244,000
people who will leave these fields. A Northern Virginia Technology Council study showed
there is now a shortage of 19,000 IT workers in and around the Beltway.


A study by the Arlington, Va., National Software Alliance showed that the number of IT
openings are projected to grow five times faster than the economy as a whole. The number
of people graduating with computer science degrees declined by 42 percent from 41,889 to
24,404 between 1986 and 1995.


Some help may be on the way. Clinton administration officials last month pledged $28
million to increase the number of IT workers. The plans, introduced by Commerce Secretary
William M. Daley and Education Secretary Richard Riley in Berkeley, Calif., include $3
million in grants to schools, businesses and local governments to retrain laid-off workers
as programmers.


Daley also announced that the federal government will spend $8 million to build a World
Wide Web site where employers can post job openings and programmers can post resumes.


The Commerce Department will spend $17 million to bring technology to "underserved
Americans." The money will come from existing appropriations, officials said.


A key issue for governments, however, will be whether IT workers are restricted by
salary schedules.


"One of the questions we're looking at is, are we going to be able to change the
pay scale to get good technical people on board?" said Gloria Parker, deputy CIO for
the Education Department.


But, Boster said, government work has an image problem. It is increasingly centered
around management, procurement and budget applications. Government IT shops are becoming
organizations of project managers and contract managers, he said.


"Although we need to know something about the technology, we're not doing the
technology," he said. "Young people who want to do technology, they don't want
to manage a contract. They want to get in there and do something."


Norm Brown, director of the National Software Alliance, an arm of the Software Program
Managers Network, agrees.


"People who are interested in software don't understand the challenge in [Defense
Department] programs," Brown said. "We need to better understand what motivates
these folks."


One option is continued contracting. But that doesn't fly with everyone.


"I would rather have government employees doing things that require the knowledge
of governmental functions ... rather than hiring a person who has heavy-duty technical
knowledge," Parker said.


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