Selling public service
- By Colleen O'Hara
- Apr 24, 2000
Former government information technology executives said they gained valuable
management and leadership skills during their public-service experience.
However, persuading new IT workers to join government service today is
a much harder proposition than it was 20 or 30 years ago when they joined.
"I'm afraid it's a tough sell," said Anne Reed, former chief information
officer at the Agriculture Department who two months ago became vice president
of the Government Global Industry Group at Electronic Data Systems Corp.
"I think all the reasons we're called to public service still exist, but
the barriers are greater."
Reed, who entered government service through the Presidential Management
Intern Program in 1981, said that today such interns are offered about $35,000.
Private-sector starting salaries are more than double that figure, so potential
employees are choosing to work for private companies, Reed said, speaking
on a panel at the FOSE conference in Washington, D.C.
"The environment today is different than when I came into government," said
Cindy Samuelson, director of marketing, public relations and sales at Lucent
Technologies. Samuelson spent about 27 years in government IT-related positions.
When she started, citizens did not have the negative perception of public
servants that they do today, she said, adding that most recent presidential
candidates have campaigned against the government in some way. "This doesn't
recruit people to fill the jobs."
Agencies are encouraging employees to leave through downsizing and buyouts,
said Renny DiPentima, who worked in government for 30 years, most recently
at the Social Security Administration. He now heads SRA International Inc.'s
federal business. "The challenge of IT managers will become harder and harder,"
Still, there are ways agencies can maximize their chances for being
successful in recruiting and retaining IT workers. Covering tuition expenses
and providing an environment that balances work and home life will help,
DiPentima said. "Not everyone wants to work seven days a week, 20 hours
a day," which is what many people working for Internet start-ups are experiencing,
he said. "A lot of those people are becoming disenchanted."
Another key to keeping workers is to "make them stretch" and test their
abilities, said Gil Guiarino, who is senior principal at American Management
Systems Inc. and who worked with the Air Force for 20 years. "Outsource
what is not core to the agency and provide more responsibility" to those
workers who stay on to manage the IT projects and contracts, he said. "You
have to understand who you are. If you want to be an engineer, go to industry;
if you want to be a leader, go to government."
Remaining a constant in public service is the opportunity to take on
wide- ranging responsibilities and to hone leadership skills, the panelists
said. These experiences led to the opportunities they now have in the private
sector. "I am having a great second career," DiPentima said, "but I remember