Agencies suffer an IT worker drought, GAO says

Already strapped for high-tech workers, agencies cannot find people to do year 2000
work, and managers expect the staffing problem to get worse, the General Accounting Office
concluded in a new report.


The work force deficiency could become complicated as industry and government vie for
personnel from a limited pool of applicants, GAO said.


“If this more vigorous competition occurs, the government may find it increasingly
difficult to obtain and retain the skilled personnel needed to correct its
mission-critical systems in time,” GAO warned.


There are instances where the problem has hampered year 2000 work. The Patent and
Trademark Office had to delay date code fixes for three months because a contractor was
unable to hire qualified staff for the project. PTO eventually had to hire a different
contractor, GAO said.


There is a growing need for programmers in both public and private sectors stated the
report, Year 2000 Computing Crisis: Status of Efforts to Deal with Personnel Issues.


The government is working on its systems personnel shortage, but “it is not yet
known whether these efforts to ensure an adequate supply of qualified personnel to solve
the government’s year 2000 problem” will suffice, GAO said.


About half of the 24 largest federal agencies and a quarter of the 41 small and
independent agencies have reported to the Office of Management and Budget that they lack
personnel to work on year 2000 projects. GAO found agencies were having trouble finding
qualified contractors for the same reason.


Much of the worry is based on anecdotal evidence, GAO said. Therefore, the full extent
and severity of the problem across government is not known, the report said.


Jack Gribben, spokesman for the President’s Council on Year 2000 Conversion, said
the personnel problem has not been overwhelming so far. “We haven’t seen the
kinds of problems that people had speculated would occur,” he said. “Overall
we’re fairly confident that most agencies are doing fine in terms of personnel.”


Besides the presidential council, the Chief Information Officers Council’s
Education and Training Committee, OMB and the Office of Personnel Management are looking
into the issue.


To help agencies, OPM is letting retired government workers return to work without pay
penalties.


OPM also is using other methods to beef up the government’s year 2000 work force,
including recruitment and relocation bonuses, retention allowances for individual
employees and special salary rates for difficult-to-fill posts.


The CIO Council’s Education and Training Committee is unsure how pervasive the
problem is among agencies.


“We have not received any evidence to show that the year 2000 personnel issue is a
governmentwide issue,” committee chairwoman Gloria R. Parker said. “We do
understand that it is a challenge for several agencies, but we don’t have evidence
that all agencies are having personnel problems related to the year 2000 issue.”


The committee is reviewing IT worker shortages governmentwide, said Parker, CIO for the
Housing and Urban Development Department. The committee’s studies will be done by
February. Meanwhile, the committee already has proposed the creation of a new pay scale
for government IT employees.


GAO, however, said is concerned about the timeliness of the CIO Council’s studies.
“The final report is scheduled to be issued after November 1998, which may be too
late to address the year 2000 work force issues,” the report said.

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