Critics: Clinton training plan falls short

A Clinton administration initiative to spend millions to remedy the nationwide shortage of information technology workers may not help the technical manpower problem in the federal government according to observers of the federal IT arena.

Administration officials Jan. 12 announced plans to invest $34 million dollars in grants and projects for IT training and for increasing the interest nationwide in both IT and careers in the field. But with close to 1 million new IT workers needed nationwide by 2006 and more than 300 000 IT jobs sitting vacant at present computer industry observers say the administration's plan is a day late and a dollar short.

"That [money] wouldn't even be a drop " said Renato DiPentima president of SRA Federal Systems. "I think it's a start but it would not nearly be enough to do the job."

The Northern Virginia Technology Council estimates that there are close to 21 000 IT jobs va cant in the national capital area— an area in which IT companies on average do close to 75 percent of their business with the federal government. If the money the Clinton administration has earmarked for alleviating the IT worker shortage was devoted to the capital area alone it would boil down to less than $2 000 per vacant position for recruiting and training and that is simply not enough DiPentima said. And because the money will be spread throughout the nation the impact will be even less he said.

Not only is the money too little it also may be too late federal observers said. "We had the same job-shortage problem four years ago " said Heather Rosenker communications vice president at the Professional Services Council a Vienna Va. trade association that represents federal contractors.

For many federal agencies that job shortage is compounded by other issues that can make fulfilling agency missions through IT a difficult task. Federal officials say that they and their contractors ar e having difficulty getting the people they need to fill IT positions.

"America's New Deficit: The Shortage of Information Technology Workers " a Commerce Department report that was released in the fall and updated this month details the tug of war going on for IT employees.

"Government and nonprofit organizations may increasingly be squeezed out of the competition for IT talent " according to the report. "For example while average starting salaries for graduates with bachelor's degrees in computer engineering grew to more than $34 000 in 1995 the federal government's entry-level salary for computer professionals with bachelor's degrees ranged from about $18 700 to $23 200 that year.... The U.S. Air Force Communications Agency reports a loss rate of 42 to 45 percent of systems administrators from 1993 to 1995."

"We cannot even compete with the vendor so we're one step behind them in the food chain if you will " said David Goldberg deputy associate commissioner for information resources manag ement at the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Goldberg said his agency spends close to $300 million on IT a year and has an average

vacancy rate of 25 percent for its 205 IT positions. And in general the people who are applying are not qualified he said.

"The government is in bad shape in any way you want to look at it " said Neil Stillman deputy chief information officer at the Department of Health and Human Services an agency that spends more than $1 billion a year on IT. "Not only are we probably offering half of the salary that a qualified computer graduate would be offered right out of college but we have [severe] requirements that don't even allow us to hire them."

Stillman was referring to Office of Personnel Management procedures that require HHS to consider a host of candidates such as veterans America's disabled population and workers displaced from other agencies. They may be deserving but they are not necessarily qualified for IT positions he said.

For some agenci es IT vacancies are not such a big issue. "We've got a fixed [IT] work force [that likes] the security of [its job] " said a Department of Veterans Affairs spokesman.

Some agencies already may be seeing less of a worker crunch than they otherwise might have seen. "Just on my own knowledge there are very few agencies who are hiring people. Again we're in a downsizing mode " DiPentima said.

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