Technical knowledge and government IT professionals: An oxymoron?

Do government IT pros have the expertise to know a good technical idea when the see it? And, even more importantly, can they distinguish between suggestions that are self-serving from those that are in an agency's interest?

In my last two posts, I talked about issues involving government-industry communication prior to issuance of requests for proposals (RFPs), with special emphasis on ways to increase the flow of suggestions from industry for improving RFPs from the government's perspective rather than changes that simply buttress one firm's competitive position.

Making such suggestions raises a question about the technical IT knowledge of the government's workforce. Can government IT folks recognize a good suggestion when they see one? And, even more importantly, can they distinguish suggestions that are self-serving from those that are in the agency's interest?

Of course these questions also apply more generally, and not just for the pre-RFP process. The government typically contracts out a larger portion of its work than do private firms undertaking IT projects in the commercial world. This may be a good idea, but one problem it produces is that government often lacks a well-developed career track for people with IT technical skills.  My impression is that the government often tries to make up for this by using nonprofit, federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs) whose only job is working for government, or hiring small private companies whose niche is providing the government such advice.

The question I would like to put out to blog readers is what is the best way to upgrade the base of technical IT knowledge available to the government.  Is the FFRDC/small firm solution a good one?  (I've heard criticisms about it, but is there a realistic alternative?)  Should government be looking to hire mid-career professionals from industry for a few years, perhaps when they have young children, realizing they won't stay but taking advantage of technical knowledge they have developed?  Should we be hiring young IT technical folks right out of college and putting them on a track that mixes project management and technical review skills? Or some mixture of the above?

One solution is to bring more programming and other straight technical work in-house, but it would seem that if the only argument for doing this is to have a technical team that can deal with contractor techies, it doesn't make sense except as a last resort.

What do you think?  Are there any government people who deny there's a problem?

 

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