Bill would let feds try industry jobs

Bill would let feds try industry jobs

Rep. Jim Turner (D-Texas), left, confers with Rep. Tom Davis during a hearing to discuss Davis' plan for creating a government-industry IT worker exchange program.

Human capital management is an art, an art that the government simply does not seem to have when it comes to information technology'or so argues Rep. Tom Davis.

To help the government get savvier, the Virginia Republican has proposed a plan that would let federal and industry systems employees swap jobs for two-year stints.

The plan is laid out in the Information Technology Executive Exchange Act of 2001, which Davis introduced last month.

'The federal government needs to be the leader' in facing the looming systems work force shortage, Davis said during a hearing of his House Government Reform Subcommittee on Technology and Procurement Policy. 'We are not the leader.'

Stale and stagnant are two words Davis used to describe the government's IT work force.

'Governmentwide, we face significant human capital shortages that will only get worse,' he said in a statement. 'Nowhere is this more evident than with the technology work force.'

Thirty-five percent of federal workers will become eligible to retire over the next five years, and the National Research Council estimates that 50 percent of government IT workers will be eligible to retire by 2006.

It was these figures that prompted Davis to devise a plan for what he calls the Digital TechCorps. 'My hope is to rekindle faith in American service,' he said.

As outlined in his bill, HR 2678, the corps would be a group of government IT managers who would work for up to two years in industry while private-sector employees take over federal jobs.

The government employees would receive salary and benefits from their agencies and sign contracts to return to their federal jobs after the two-year terms.

'I think you'll find a huge demand,' he said. 'You don't want to be stale where you are.'

Davis said federal workers are not gaining adequate technical know-how and by default are stymieing the growth of IT as a whole within government.

'They sit there stagnating,' Davis said.

According to a National Academy of Public Administration study on the federal IT work force, the main hurdles for recruitment are salary and the length of time it takes to get hired. Davis cited a Commerce Department survey that showed government IT workers made between $10,000 and $15,000 less than their private-sector counterparts.

If all else fails

'For too long, the federal government has been considered the employer of last resort,' Davis said. 'We need to examine nonpay benefits.'

Officials from the General Accounting Office questioned the need for the bill and suggested alternative measures. 'Are you doing everything within your power before we think about changing the law?' asked Chris Mihm, director for strategic issues at GAO.

Mihm noted that GAO recruits federal workers from colleges and universities nationwide. He said he meets with professors to promote government careers to students.

'Eighty percent of what needs to be done can be done in the context of current law,' Comptroller General David M. Walker said.

The GAO chief, though not adamantly opposed to the bill, raised concerns that Davis had not offered solutions for filling empty jobs, only improving the skills of existing workers.

'From the philosophical standpoint, there's great merit,' Walker said. But 'if people are looking to maximize their net worth and not their self-worth, they're not going to come to the government.'

The GAO officials said the government could improve the technical skills of its IT workers and attract new hires using three methods:

  • Each agency needs to come up with ideas on how to bring people in with existing resources by doing things such as helping repay student loans, offering transportation subsidies and letting employees keep frequent-flyer miles.

  • The administration needs to work directly with Congress to create recruitment and retention techniques that will improve the government's perception as an employer.

  • The government must address the need for increasing its salary and benefit offerings.
    Stephen A. Perry, administrator for the General Services Administration, agreed with Walker's contention that more needs to be done in the way of recruitment.

  • He too lauded the bill's objectives but said, 'There should be a greater emphasis on bringing people in.'

    Davis said he wanted to start the program with a few hundred exchanges.

    The real deal

    But exchanging a limited number of existing government IT workers with industry workers over the next few years delays finding an answer to the bigger problem of filling jobs soon to be left vacant by retiring employees, Perry said.

    'My concern is a matter of urgency,' Perry said. 'Can we wait two years?'

    GSA has been working independently to recruit and retain IT workers, he said.


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