Keep staff up to snuff

Keep staff up to snuff

Thomas R. Temin

'The government will only be successful in information technology if it has people working for it that really know and understand its business.'

John Dyer, the Social Security Administration's chief information officer, made that lyrical pronouncement during a recent speech in Washington.

It's remarkable that such a simple idea needs to be stated at all. You'd think it would go without saying. But that's not the case in this era of downsizing and outsourcing.

Lately, industry and the government seem to be acting at cross-purposes on the subject of staffing. High-ranking career officials are conducting conferences, giving speeches and writing position papers on the need to retain talent and leadership. Industry, responding naturally to market stimuli such as the Office of Management and Budget's drive to boost outsourcing, is competing ever harder for contracts that replace work done by government employees.

Neither side is wrong. Each is simply playing the cards they've been dealt.

But it's more complicated than that. Senior feds are leaving in what seems like record numbers, lured by lucrative and stimulating private-sector jobs.

The nearly irresistible temptation of dot-com fortunes and stock options also fuel turnover.

Plus, in a few short months, senior political appointees will head out the doors in anticipation of the administration change. One wonders who will have sufficient knowledge and authority to maintain the government's progress in IT deployment.

Recently, Paul C. Light, the director of government studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington, commented, 'We've reached the limits of doing more with less.'

That's true in many areas of government. But despite their words, no congressional leaders seriously question the scope of government.

The program responsibilities of the federal government will continue to grow. So unless those responsible for oversight address the issue of both the level and quality of IT staffing, the gap between promise and performance will continue to grow, too.

Thomas R. Temin

Editorial director

E-mail: editor@gcn.com

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