IT Exchange program floundering, GAO finds

The once-promising program that would let federal employees work and learn at a private-sector company and vice versa is treading water and in serious danger of ending without any use.

The Government Accountability Office found that only three agencies have IT Exchange Program plans approved and just seven others have even developed plans. And furthermore, the only agency to try to execute an exchange, the Homeland Security Department's Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, couldn't get the company participating to agree to terms.

'Four years into ITEP, agencies are still initiating and planning their programs and, accordingly, no exchanges have taken place,' auditors said in a congressionally mandated report on the program. 'Agencies will face several challenges in making exchanges, including shortages of employees with key skills and concerns that exchanges could hinder companies' ability to do future business with the government.'

Congress in the E-Government Act of 2002 called for the program to help agencies address IT skill gaps in government. The Office of Personnel Management took nearly three years to finalize the program's rules. Agencies have until December 2007 to sign exchange agreements with the private sector.

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), outgoing chairman of the Government Reform Committee, sponsored the provision and has called for a similar program for acquisition employees.

But OPM and agencies are having a difficult time getting the IT Exchange Program off the ground.

Among the challenges GAO found were:
  • Lack of qualified employees, particularly in enterprise architecture, project management and IT security;

  • Concerns over a company's ability to do future business with the agency they exchange employees with;

  • Questions about ethics requirements, such as financial-disclosure data, that could hinder private-sector employees; and

  • Lack of program marketing by federal agencies.

'OPM and the participating agencies are aware of the challenges and acknowledge that they need to be addressed,' auditors said. 'However, in the short time remaining before the authority to begin exchanges ends, it will be essential to expeditiously address the challenges to enable a significant number of successful exchanges.'

GAO recommended that OPM director Linda Springer include in her semiannual reports to Congress the status of efforts to address these challenges.

While OPM agreed with GAO's findings, it did not agree that information on how they are addressing challenges should be included in the semiannual report.

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