Downsizing drains IT work force

"Doing more with less" has become more than just a cliche for the federal procurement work force. Over a five-year period buyouts hiring freezes and other downsizing initiatives have pared the ranks of government acquisition professionals by about 12 percent.

While new buying rules and increased automation have helped lessen the pain for the remaining few a larger problem exists. Downsizing also has served to shrink the pool of institutional knowledge and expertise available in acquisition shops. Lessons learned from such programs as the Treasury Department's DMAC II the General Services Administration's STRIDE program and various Air Force Desktop awards are remembered by fewer and fewer and have become just acronyms in the annals of past procurements.

One way to combat this loss of corporate memory is to increase the use of interagency management teams— individuals whose expertise can be shared. Another solution is to refine long-range work force planning skills and identify problems before they reach crisis stage. Although it is bound to be criticized by many the Clinton administration's recently announced initiative to foster a robust computer technology work force is a good example of just such an effort and could prove to be beneficial to the federal market where the shortfall in computer professionals is even more severe than it is in the private sector.

While we can count on a fresh crop of talented newcomers to take up the slack left by downsizing and departures the learning curve will be steep and programs are bound to suffer in the interim. At a time when IT shops are faced with numerous challenges particularly fashioning a Year 2000 fix institutional memory will become an even more valuable commodity than it is today.

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