Panel: IT labor crisis has no precedent

Panel: IT labor crisis has no precedent


The United States is on the brink of an unprecedented crisis of competence in government because of poor work force management, current and former federal officials told lawmakers last month.

'Fixing personnel problems is a precondition for fixing everything that needs repair in the U.S. national security policy,' said James Schlesinger, a former Defense secretary and member of the Commission on National Security in the 21st Century.

'If we lose the ability to retain and recruit quality personnel, we won't enjoy the status of a superpower.'
'retired Adm. Harry Train
He was joined by retired Adm. Harry D. Train, a former commander-in-chief of the Navy's Atlantic Fleet and commission member; Henry Hinton, managing director for defense capabilities and management at the General Accounting Office; and Robert Lieberman, deputy inspector general at the Defense Department.

The men testified before a joint hearing of the Senate Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, Restructuring and the District of Columbia, and the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Civil Service and Agency Organization.

Needs undefined

The government faces a dwindling technical work force because it lacks a coherent or systematic process of determining how many and what kinds of scientific and engineering personnel it needs, Schlesinger said.

Hinton said agencies should make it a priority to identify problems relating to personnel, recruitment and training.

Government service is no longer looked upon as a prestigious career because the private sector creates better opportunities with higher salaries and more chances for promotion, Schlesinger said.

Also, the government's hiring procedures are rigid, lengthy and arcane, discouraging many young workers, he said.

The work force problems also affect national defense, Train said.

Combat today is faster and more lethal than it was during World War II, he said. 'We need to ensure that our hiring practices keep up with this agility,' Train said. 'If we lose the ability to retain and recruit quality personnel, we won't enjoy the status of a superpower.'
Constant criticism of government employees and agencies by politicians and the press has a demoralizing effect on the federal work force, Schlesinger said.

'This is an issue that has not been addressed at all. We have to make a start by gaining respect for bureaucracy,' he said.

All five men suggested that a national campaign be launched to reinvigorate and enhance the prestige of government services to attract the best candidates.

The government should offer scholarships and debt relief benefits to students who agree to work as civil servants or in the military after graduation, the panel said.

'A typical American student does not get into science and technology,' Train said. 'But if the government starts forgiving loans, things will be different.'

Shorten process

The panel recommended that the president take steps to shorten the presidential appointee process by confirming the national security team first, standardizing paperwork requirements and reducing the number of nominees subject to full FBI background checks.

As for the armed forces, reforms are needed in recruitment, career management, compensation and retirement systems, the panel said. DOD's approach to personnel management affects employment practices across government, Hinton said.


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