Finding top systems talent is a nonstop job for agencies

Thomas R. Temin

More than 800,000 information technology job openings exist in the United States, according to the IT Association of America. That translates to a vacancy rate of 8 percent, or double the vacancy rate for other professions.

No wonder government managers lament the difficulty of finding, hiring and retaining good IT talent. It is easy to blame the blistering economy for the inability of some government organizations to find the people they need to design, build and administer quality systems.

And the Internet economy makes more-traditional jobs seem old-fashioned. A recent New York Times story detailed how three 18-year-old high school graduates in Riverhead, N.Y., formed a company that won a contract to oversee the Long Island community's 600-computer school district network. How could a stodgy government bureaucracy attract and retain such people as regular employees?

The glib answer these days is outsourcing. But outsourcing doesn't guarantee anything'not lower costs, not better quality.

In the long run, for a government to operate efficiently and consistently, it must retain a core of nonpolitical career technical professionals who understand its missions and culture as well as they understand software development and systems architecture.

Fine. But how do you build such a staff? After all, you can't give stock options or pay extraordinary salaries. For some tips that work, check out Trudy Walsh's Page 1 story on how two world-class government IT operations have gotten where they are. It might sound elementary, but you can't have a top-drawer operation without the right people. So Phoenix chief information officer Danny Murphy and Kansas CIO Don Heiman focus on people.

Murphy has sped up hiring decisions to keep pace with industry. He enters his staff members' projects in competitions'and wins. And Heiman spends $400,000 a year on staff training.

But there is another behind-the-scenes factor. Heiman, whose shop is a fee-for-service operation, spends a lot of time measuring user satisfaction with IT services. Murphy measures his group's performance against those of other government IT operations.

The result? By measuring performance, the two executives can continuously improve service. And shops that improve service, laud workers' successes, provide adequate training and keep systems current attract bright, energetic people'the kind of people who want to make a difference.

Thomas R. Temin

Editorial director

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