ANOTHER VIEW: Boomers need to leave a workforce legacy

'Change in all things is sweet.'


As my peers and I begin to contemplate the next phase of our lives'and what we have and have not accomplished as career civil servants'it occurs to me that we need to make some changes in the way we hire and retain IT professionals in civil service.

As a charter member of the baby-boom generation, I have seen the positive and negative impact that my cohorts have made on American society over the past 50 years'from schools, to housing, to health care and, specifically, civil service. As a group, we were inspired by the missions of our various departments and agencies; we came in large numbers to serve; and we have stayed on, largely, as a career choice.

I believe the legacy of my fellow boomers will stand the test of time. We have faithfully executed the vision of the American people as enacted by Congress to protect our environment, rebuild our cities, and take care of our elderly and military veterans. But we came in such large numbers and stayed on so faithfully that we have not left enough room for our successors. We have also failed to keep up with changes in the workplace'and society in general'in terms of how we hire, promote, reassign, reward and discipline our workforce.

We should have taken greater measures to help the federal workspace evolve over time while ensuring that we kept the best aspects of the civil service system, such as long-term investment in people, fair and equitable treatment of employees, professional career development, long-term institutional memory, the setting and achievement of long-term goals, and the establishment of a culture of dedication to service and to mission.

Because we did not evolve, we are now faced with the need to change rapidly and radically.

Instead of hiring recent high school and college graduates almost exclusively at the lower end of a structured job series and pay schedule, and investing in their education and on-the-job training over decades, we need to hire at the middle and senior levels as well.

Instead of promising the bedrock security of a civil service appointment, we need to accept that employees will join, leave and return to civil service over the course of a career.

Instead of clinging to a rigid grade and step-increase pay schedule based on successful performance and longevity, we are going to have to devise a fair but flexible pay-for-performance scheme that recognizes exceptional achievement and talent as well as dedication.

It is time for the boomer generation to contribute perhaps its last great service. We must change the least productive, least flexible aspects of the current federal work rules, and we must do it quickly. At the same time, we must ensure that the federal workplace remains a fair and equitable employer of choice governed by respect for excellence and devotion to service.

Our political leadership has said it must be so, and they are right. Now it is up to the senior career leadership to devise and implement these changes. The best parts of federal service must be preserved, such as mastery of complex business processes, long-term investment in people and ownership of agency mission.

As for the rest, we need to explore alternative ways to recruit, hire, reward and retain an ever-changing IT workforce.

This is our job to do. We must put aside our prejudices and challenge our comfort zones. This is not something that should be done to us but something that must be done by us.

As the American writer and professor John Schaar once wrote: 'The future is not a result of choices among alternative paths offered by the present, but a place that is created'created first in the mind and will, created next in activity. The future is not some place we are going to, but one we are creating.'

Edward F. Meagher is deputy assistant secretary and deputy CIO of the Veterans Affairs Department and current president of AFFIRM. E-mail: [email protected]

About the Author

Meagher is deputy chief information officer at the Interior Department, past president of the Association for Federal Information Resources Management and an Air Force Vietnam veteran.


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