Dec 31 2009

People Power

The supply of workers with critical IT skills doesn't equal agencies' demand, but CIOs are drafting plans to close the gap.

Photo: Jensen Hande
"We know what our bench strength is and where we have skills gaps. We can use that information to do very targeted recruitment,
selection and training," the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center's Sandy Peavy says.

Sandy Peavy's instincts told her that her systems team at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center needed more programming, project management, managerial and security skills.

Now the CIO for this Homeland Security Department agency has hard data to back up what her gut had been telling her. It comes from the Information Technology Workforce Capability Assessment, a survey that the center's IT employees participated in last fall.

Peavy says she plans to use preliminary agency-specific data from the survey to develop an IT workforce plan that will align the skill strengths of her staff with the strategic direction of Homeland Security.

"We've never had an agencywide perspective because everything was done within departments," Peavy says. "But based upon the results of the survey, we know what our bench strength is and where we have skills gaps. We can use that information to do very targeted recruitment, selection and training."

Everybody's Doing It

DHS isn't alone in trying to get a handle on the supply and demand of mission-critical IT skills. The Clinger-Cohen Act mandated an annual governmentwide IT skills assessment.

To that end, the Office of Personnel Management and the CIO Council created the survey. The government has roughly 79,000 IT employees; more than 22,000 took part in the survey.

Now, the Office of Management and Budget has directed all agencies to use the survey data and other internal assessments to draft plans by Aug. 30 that detail how they will close their IT skills gaps.

The administration will make sure that agencies follow up on these plans by rating their progress at retaining, attracting and developing qualified workers as part of the President's Management Agenda scorecard.

Based on the survey's findings, this means, in part, filling a skills dearth in capital planning and investment, IT security, project management and various emerging technologies.

The Typical Federal IT Worker ...
Is between 46 and 55 years old
Is a white male
Holds a bachelor's degree
Is a GS-13
Has more than 20 years of federal experience
Is likely to retire in the next 11 to 20 years

Source: 2004 IT Workforce Capability Assessment

"There's a realization now that we have to really value our workforce as much as we do our equipment because it's a huge part of how we accomplish our mission," notes Dagne Fulcher, workforce development program manager for the Patent and Trademark Office and the workforce planning leader for the CIO Council's IT Workforce Committee.

"Technology is critical, too, of course, but it's not going to work if you don't have the right people and the proper engineering," says Fulcher, who has been on detail to OPM as a liaison from the CIO Council.

For its part, the CIO Council has been critical of the government's inability to bring a cohesive focus to the effort.

The council recently created forums for agencies to share best practices and ideas, and has encouraged CIOs to partner more closely with their agencies' chief human capital officers, or CHCOs.

The council has also created a video/DVD that plays up the benefits of an IT career within the government and made it available to agencies. It also recently unveiled a software tool that agencies can use to analyze the survey data to identify gaps and help determine future demands.

The Right Option

Jerry Williams, who recently left his job as acting CIO for the Small Business Administration, says that a governmentwide effort to assess IT skills and attract workers is exactly what agencies need to successfully compete with the private sector.

SBA needs workers with skills in several mission-critical disciplines, but particularly enterprise architecture, programming and IT security, says Williams, now deputy CIO at the Agriculture Department.

"There isn't exactly a glut of those types of skills around," he says. "If we're going to acquire those skills, we've got to develop a set of recruiting and training strategies that is outside the norm of what's been done in the past."

Tactics that SBA expects to rely on include limiting to 45 days the time between when SBA closes a job announcement and makes a job offer; using new hiring incentives recently approved by OPM, including recruitment and relocation bonuses for new federal employees and retention bonuses for existing employees; and training low-grade-level workers so they can move up into critical positions.

Peavy, meanwhile, is working with her center's human resources department and other colleagues at Homeland Security to put together a plan based not only on the survey results and gap analysis but also on further interviews of IT managers and subject matter experts. DHS is also assessing current personnel practices and how it can improve them to better recruit employees with sought-after IT skills.

When the effort is complete, Peavy says, Homeland Security will come up with a summary of its gap analysis, recommended fixes and an implementation plan that includes performance metrics so it can measure progress at specified milestones.

In his April memo directing agencies to craft the plans, OMB Deputy Director for Management Clay Johnson III noted that the plans will give agencies a management tool for meeting their hiring and training objectives. On the flip side, the annual assessments and plans will let OMB monitor IT personnel and skill deficits governmentwide.

For the first time, Fulcher says, agencies will be in a "situation strategically to look at their workforce and know exactly where they need to concentrate their efforts."

To read the complete analysis of the 2004 IT Workforce Capability
Assessment, visit the CIO Council's Web site, at