Commerce innovates to recruit systems workers

If they can’t use pay raises to retain information technology workers, federal
information managers must find other ways to keep their IT staff members, said Alan
Balutis, Commerce Department’s deputy chief information officer.

Balutis outlined his efforts for retaining IT workers during the Coalition for
Government Procurement’s spring conference last month.

“The biggest challenge facing CIOs in 2005 and 2010 will be attracting,
recruiting, developing and holding IT workers,” Balutis said. “CIOs need to
focus on managing people. They need to know what makes young IT workers happy, and money
is not the first factor.” Private industry increasingly draws young IT graduates
with more money and perquisites, Balutis said.

Focus groups of entry-level and midlevel IT workers at Commerce revealed that the
workers want opportunities to work on innovative and quality projects, flexible work
schedules, good benefits and respect from their peers, Balutis said. Money placed third
and fourth on IT workers’ incentive lists, he said.

“There is no one factor to keep our workers happy,” Balutis said. “But
we do know the quality of life and the work environment are important to them. CIOs
can’t control pay, but these other factors are in our control.”

Government managers can’t offer entry-level salaries as high as those in the
private sector, so CIOs need to assign their young IT workers to projects that make a
difference and programs that add to their knowledge, he said.

The ability to attract and keep young IT workers takes strong management skills,
Balutis said. CIOs who have a long-term vision and whose IT staff members work closely
with industry partners meet systems deadlines, he said. But only 50 to 60 percent of IT
departments in government say they deliver systems initiatives on time, he said.

CIOs are also beginning to realize the gravity of the year 2000 crisis, Balutis said.
“I admit I was a skeptic two years ago,” he said. “I thought it was a
problem overblown by consultants, and that a magic bullet solution would appear. That is
not going to be the case.”

Congress and the Office of Management and Budget both believe only 40 percent of the
government’s mission-critical systems are year 2000-ready, he said. Repairing all the
nation’s systems in 12 months will take 700,000 person-years of effort, Balutis said.
CIOs need to draw on all their skills to have their systems fixed by that
“unforgiving date,” he said.

At Commerce, Balutis is responsible for day-to-day management of the department’s
IT systems. One of his major achievements was to guide the department’s conversion of
the Agriculture Department’s payroll and personnel system.

The coalition is an association of companies that sell commercially available products
and services to the government, said Larry Allen, CGP’s executive director.  


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