Face the HR facts

Brain drain. Exodus of talent. Hollowed-out government.

Phrases such as these evoke images of a federal work force depleted of people who can
get anything done--a government staffed by the tired, the incompetent or the young and

Is that really so? A recent GCN article detailed the fact that 11 high-ranking Defense
Department information technology officials had departed within a 30-day period [GCN,
April 6, Page 6]. The departures prompted a worried rebuke from Rep. Steve Horn
(R-Calif.), chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Subcommittee on
Government Management, Information and Technology.

One reads constantly about the shortage of IT workers, of industry's inflated salaries
and of stock option plans at systems companies. By contrast, IRS commissioner Charles
Rossotti must push to pay his agency's programmers a 10 percent bonus.

As in Sebastian Junger's popular book about a fishing-boat disaster, The Perfect
Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea
, several powerful forces are in rare
alignment, churning the federal employment picture.

Nevertheless, it's premature to jump to the conclusion that the government is being
totally drained of its talent. Take a look, for example, at the Chief Information Officers
Council. You'll find lots of bright 40-something people with lots of energy and ideas--and
a willingness to remain feds.

Still, the gap between the government's salaries and benefits and those of industry is
a problem. Plus, the government must confront a serious erosion in respect for federal

No matter how much the government can outsource, it still needs a stable and highly
skilled work force.

The Carter-era response to a so-called brain drain was the creation of SES. It's time
for the current administration and Congress to dust off its own thinking about human


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