6 groups that can make a difference
Smart feds join organizations where they meet and mix with a variety of professional people
- By Aliya Sternstein
- Sep 04, 2006
Information technology managers in the government should consider joining one or two leadership organizations that offer vocational and personal benefits, say management experts familiar with the advantages of group affiliation.
In choosing among various associations, IT managers should join those that will help them establish support networks inside and outside their niches, said Carl Fillichio, vice president of innovation and public engagement at the Council for Excellence in Government, a nonprofit group that focuses on improving government performance.
Fillichio recommends that IT officials become part of an organization that has members who are not IT professionals. “Often, IT people don’t network with non-IT people,” he said. “What I like to see are organizations that have different types of people. Anybody in IT should look at the Federal Managers Association (FMA), Blacks in Government (BIG), Hispanic organizations, gay/lesbian organizations, etc. You could be in an agency and not know what the person down the hall from you does because government is so big it can be isolating.”
Fillichio added that many groups for government leaders do not cut into leisure or family time. Meetings convene at lunchtime, often in an agency conference room or cafeteria.
The value of joining organizations depends on several factors. “The key thing that people should know is that you get out of them what you put into them,” said Bruce McConnell, president and founder of consulting firm McConnell International. He is a former chief of information and technology policy at the Office of Management and Budget.
Groups can be time-consuming and expensive. Some have membership fees of more than $100. To get a return on that investment, management experts advise government employees to attend the meetings and seminars and not spread themselves too thin. Three is about the maximum number of professional groups that anyone should join, experts say.
The rewards of group membership for up-and-coming federal leaders include professional encouragement, useful information for evaluating internal programs, job training, information about new job opportunities, and relationships with private-sector executives and peers at other government agencies. Here are six professional organizations that IT managers should consider joining.
1. American Council for Technology/Industry Advisory Council
The American Council for Technology began in 1979 as a group for helping government leaders acquire and use IT effectively. Later, the Industry Advisory Council formed within ACT to bring industry executives into the group.
“On the federal side, there aren’t that many good places for people just to share with each other best practices within the federal government,” McConnell said. The government-sponsored CIO Council is “not robust enough to meet all the appetite.”
ACT brings government IT managers together to talk with one another, said McConnell, who is a member of IAC. IAC fosters communication among government and industry leaders.
IAC is a good place for government and industry leaders to interact in an open environment, McConnell said. At the office, rules define how federal officials can interact with industry officials, he added.
McConnell said he recommends that government IT managers take advantage of ACT/IAC professional development programs.
The ACT/IAC Partners Program prepares future government IT leaders for the roles they will fill at the Senior Executive Service level. Participants in the Partners Program must be senior-level federal employees, usually at the GS-15 level on the General Schedule pay system. To be eligible, they must be involved with business transformation, IT management, program implementation, or acquisition.
ACT/IAC also sponsors the Voyagers Program, a professional development program for federal IT and acquisition employees at the GS-11 to GS-13 or equivalent levels. Its purpose is to prepare midlevel managers for future roles in industry and government.
2. Association for Federal Information Resources Management
The Association for Federal Information Resources Management’s purpose is to improve the management of information within the federal government. The group’s monthly luncheon series brings together decision-makers from the government and the private sector to discuss specific topics. The association also strives to attract new talent to the government IT community through scholarships, internships and mentoring programs.
AFFIRM members say the group’s organizational structure differs from most government/industry professional associations. The president and vice president are federal officials. The other board members are a mix of public- and private-sector officials.
Fred Thompson, vice president for management and technology at the Council for Excellence in Government and an AFFIRM board member, said the group’s president typically sets the agenda for the year.
“I originally joined when [Treasury Department Chief Information Officer] Ira Hobbs was in charge,” Thompson said. “He was pushing for IT workforce internships, training and scholarship programs that will make [students] want to be federal employees.”
AFFIRM presidents tend to “focus on where we should be going,” he added.
3. Blacks in Government
Blacks in Government is an advocacy, training and professional development organization for black public service employees. The group has participated in issues of local, regional and national significance since 1975.
Every year, BIG hosts an annual national training conference where IT managers can learn from government officials in every field, including IT. Senior IT officials participate in forums and teach workshops. Previous seminars have addressed topics such as financial management — “Financial Empowerment Secrets Every Employee Must Know” — and communication skills — “Dealing With People Who Drive You Crazy.”
Darlene Young, a computer specialist and the group’s national president, said she would like to see more IT managers attend next year’s conference in Nashville, Tenn.
“I believe they should consider joining BIG because we offer a training program that would enhance their abilities to understand how government as a whole works,” said Young, an information systems security officer at the State Department. The group, she added, offers many opportunities to network with other managers who know the road map for success in the IT field.
4. Federal Managers Association
Federal Managers Association is a federal employee organization for managers, supervisors and executives that is not exclusive to IT leaders. FMA members testify on congressional panels and consult with executive branch officials. The group offers professional development programs and fosters networking among its members.
The group cites its history of helping implement federal management reforms that have improved government operations, enhanced federal pay and benefits, and introduced better hiring practices.
The group holds an annual national convention in the Washington, D.C., area, an annual midyear conference, and regional meetings and programs at the chapter level. FMA’s educational division administers professional development seminars and workshops, including a practicum at American University.
5. Project Management Institute
Project Management Institute members come from almost every major industry, including government, aerospace, business management, construction, engineering, financial services, information technology and telecommunications. The group offers three levels of membership for government IT managers.
PMI has more than 200 chapters worldwide.
The organization’s members can affiliate with a government-specific interest group that focuses on public-sector project management issues. Those issues include large public works projects, internal organizational improvements and projects for improving the delivery of public services.
PMI colleges are groups of PMI members who share an interest in one or more areas of project management expertise.
6. Young Government Leaders
Members of Young Government Leaders typically range in age from 22 to 40, but organization officials said they welcome members of all ages. The group focuses on issues of interest to new and young government employees. It offers professional development activities, networking opportunities, social events and seminars.
The group enables younger federal employees to commiserate with others facing similar challenges at comparable stages in their careers. “The government can be a tough place to break into,” Thompson said.
YGL’s executive board has as members “a bunch of smart, young people who have done a lot of great social and professional development networking,” Fillichio added.