Readers see dual message on work force

Kay Coles James says the slowness of the federal IT hiring process isn't due to a lack of applicants but to a lack of capacity to handle the many applications.

Henrik G. DeGyor

Are federal officials saying one thing and doing another when it comes to the government's IT work force?

Some readers think so. The GCN Management report 'Work force in transition' generated a small wave of e-mail comment.

Here's one example:

'How can you say that the government is going to use incentives to hire and retain IT workers when the Bush administration is putting IT jobs up for private competition first in an effort to outsource 850,000 federal jobs?'

And another:

'If there is such a shortage [of federal IT workers], then why are they trying to outsource all of us?'

The short answer is agencies are outsourcing IT jobs because they have a shortage of IT workers. And it seems the deficiency will get much worse as more workers retire over the next five years.

But hiring contractors to fill immediate IT needs is a matter of practicality. It's really policy that concerns disgruntled readers.

Those who hear a mixed message from the government are referring largely to policies based on the Office of Management and Budget's A-76 Circular and the 850,000 positions listed as commercial jobs under the Federal Activities Inventory Reform (FAIR) Act that are potentially subject to A-76 cost-comparison studies.

Some GCN readers think A-76 is simply an apparatus for tossing government jobs to the private sector.

But Bush administration officials say their goal is not to outsource jobs but to use A-76 to balance opportunities for public and private entities to compete for service contracts; if government employees offer the best deal for taxpayers, they'll get the job.

'It's not about putting jobs out on the street,' said Angela Styles, OMB's administrator for federal procurement policy. 'It's about competition.'

Other readers sounded familiar complaints about the government's cumbersome hiring process.
One reader said he applied for five government positions and heard nothing for three months. He finally called his local legislator.

'A week later, I received a phone call from one of these agencies telling me that the government has laid off so much staff that there isn't anyone to process the applications,' he wrote. 'As a result, I spent all that time preparing these applications for nothing.'

Kay Coles James, director of the Office of Personnel Management, said the problem isn't the numbers of applicants. Indeed, she noted, last April's virtual IT job fair drew 20,000 applicants.

'The question isn't how do you get more people to come,' she said. 'The question is: How do you build the internal capacity to respond to those individuals quickly, to keep them informed as you go through the process and to make a quick hiring decision so that the best and brightest don't get annoyed with the process and leave?'

James has deputy OPM director Dan Blair on the case. She's directed him to study the hiring process and find ways to fix it.

But the virtual job fair was a big step forward. Putting it online not only resulted in thousands of applications, it streamlined the entire process. The State Department's first hire from the fair was at work within three weeks.

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