Guest entry by Federal Computer Week Editor-In-Chief John Monroe
As tempting as it sounds, federal agencies cannot afford – literally – to rely on contractors for technology innovation, at least according to one contractor.
In a recent blog post, we noted that we had received numerous reader comments in recent months that suggested that federal agencies could not afford to compete with the private sector for cream-of-the-crop IT talent.
This raises the question of whether or not agencies would be better off to stop trying to compete and simply rely on contractors to fill the gap.
But that would be a costly mistake, the contractor replied.
“Being a contractor, it's odd for me to say this, but bringing in more contractors is totally the wrong thing to do,” wrote the anonymous contractor. “They cost [twice as much as a] government employee, they generally are beholden to their company first, and the customer is generally an afterthought.”
Rather than ponying up that money for contractors who come and go, agencies would be better off getting serious about hiring IT talent – and about paying for it, the reader said.
Posted on Apr 19, 2011 at 7:01 PM15 comments
Guest entry by Federal Computer Week Editor John Monroe.
In the various debates about outsourcing, insourcing and federal pay, one issue almost always comes up: The tough competition for IT talent.
Although federal agencies have the advantage of doing some very cool projects, they still have a difficult time competing for up-and-coming IT workers, many readers say. The problem is that techies working in hot fields – developing enterprise smartphone apps, for example -- demand pay and perks outside the range of the General Schedule system.
“Our agency’s IT department is having to create non-supervisory 14s to hire system administrators because we can't compete with private industry in pay,” wrote an FCW reader who called himself or herself Fed Up. “In three years, we'd probably only be able to hire a system admin only if we open the position as an SES position.”
Those young Turks are more likely to end up working for a software vendor or systems integrator already working in the sweet spot of the IT industry, rather than a federal agency, the theory goes.
That was the case of an information security expert who had recently left the Defense Department after just two years on the job. At first, the reader was willing to accept the fact that former colleagues in the private sector were making a lot more money. But then rumors of a pay freeze began and that was too much.
“I really want to serve (I have 15 years of previous state and local government experience on top of my private sector experience), but I refuse to be a punching bag for the politicians while my family suffers,” IT Sec wrote. “Take note, new feds: Your elected officials don't care about you. If you can do better for yourself on the outside, go for it. I'm happy I did.”
If agencies cannot attract top talent, how does that affect their insourcing/outsourcing strategies? Should agencies simply cede the competition and spend more money on contractors any time new technology is involved? Or is that giving up too much control?
What do you think?
Posted on Apr 18, 2011 at 7:01 PM11 comments
Guest entry by Federal Computer Week editor John Monroe.
When Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) introduced a bill in January that would cut the federal workforce by 10 percent, we received numerous comments from already-over-burdened readers who feared they would be handed even more work. But some of out readers offered alternative perspectives.
The basic issue, as they see it, is that the staffing at many agencies is out of synch with the work actually being done. They agreed with Chris Edwards, editor of the CATO Institute’s website downsizinggovernment.org, who described such cuts as “the low-hanging fruit” at a time when budget cuts are needed.
Some readers had particular low-hanging fruit in mind.
“I say they ask each federal employee to take a look around them and identify the dead wood,” wrote an anonymous reader. “There is a GS-15 step 10 in my group that plays games on his computer all day and steals $155,500 from the taxpayers, annually.”
But how do we reconcile such comments with others from readers who say they don’t have enough hours in the day to get their jobs done? One possibility, suggested by several readers, is that the problem is not in the rank-and-file of the workforce, but in management.
One reader put it this way: “Picture one employee working under several managers whose positions are director, deputy director, assistant deputy director, manager, assistant manager, supervisor, assistant supervisor, and so on down the chain of command. These management positions earn up to $200,000 and up.”
“When a private sector company re-organizes, the first thing they do is cut the middle management,” another reader added.
But others are not convinced.
“Haven't we been around this block a few times over the past 20 years?” a reader asked. “And each and every time, a story or event will take place that has Congress screaming at an understaffed, underfunded agency to ‘fix my constituent's problems!!!’ Of course, the ones screaming at us to fix said problems are usually the same folks that voted to cut our funding and staffing levels.”
What do you think? Putting aside the current political bickering, does the federal workforce need to be downsized or realigned? Short of cross-the-board cuts, are there particular areas in the workforce that could use some trimming? In particular, what is the state of the IT workforce?
Post your comments here. This summer we will publish a selection of the most thoughtful responses in a print edition of FCW.
Posted on Apr 14, 2011 at 7:01 PM75 comments