Feds faulted for tough IT hiring requirements

Anyone filling a junior technical position on the Army's Software Support

Services Umbrella 3 contract must have at least three years of experience.

No recent college graduates will be considered.

At the Treasury Department, junior information technology specialists

hired for the Treasury Information Processing Support Services contract

should have at least four years of experience. However, Treasury will consider

two years of additional education in lieu of two years of experience.

In contract after contract, federal agencies emphasize years of work

experience as a primary requirement for employment: three years for a systems

analyst, 10 years for a senior operations research analyst.

To IT industry, where results usually speak louder than credentials

and where a growing worker shortage means talented employees can write their

own rules, the government's insistence on longevity is both amusing and

frustrating. "When I first saw it, I laughed," said Renny DiPentima, recalling a federal job listing for a C++ programmer with five years of experience. The pay, $50,000, was half what an experienced C++ programmer could expect to earn.

But the requirements are frustrating for people like DiPentima, president

of the government sector at SRA International Inc. Besides having trouble

finding workers to fit the government's exacting requirements, DiPentima

often knows that the job can often be done by someone who doesn't meet them.

The government's practice of stipulating mandatory minimum credentials for

contract employees is substantially out of touch with job market reality,

according to Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.). Legislation Davis shepherded through

the House this spring would make it harder for agencies to insist on such

"mandatory minimum" requirements. The bill awaits action in the Senate.

"Mandatory minimums included in many government solicitations bear little

relation to whether an individual can perform the necessary work," Davis

said. His legislation, the Federal Contractor Flexibility Act, would require

federal agencies to justify setting minimum education and experience requirements

when contracting for IT services. Federal agencies routinely insist that

contractors' employees have college degrees. But often, computer specialists

with community college degrees, technical school training or training supplied

by employers may be well-qualified, Davis said.

"The new economy of the Information Age is forcing both the private

and public sectors to re-evaluate old paradigms," Davis said.

The "old paradigms" often seem like little more than old habits that

federal contract administrators can't seem to shake.

"There's no law that mandates the minimums," said Olga Grkavac, executive

vice president of the Information Technology Association of America's Enterprise

Solutions Division. "It's boilerplate language that gets inserted into

[requests for proposals]. It's pervasive because that's the government


With a nationwide shortage of IT workers now at 400,000 or more, it

is often difficult and costly for IT contractors to meet highly specific

government experience requirements, she said. The government's frequent

refusal to consider recent college graduates is a particular problem.

Companies can seek waivers for mandatory minimums, but the process is

expensive and not always successful.

DiPentima said the government should adopt performance-based contracting

practices similar to those used in industry.

In the private sector, a contractor is hired to do a job and given the

flexibility to complete it as it sees fit. "On the commercial side, they

expect you to show up and perform," DiPentima said. It is up to the contractor

to decide issues such as personnel qualifications, he said.

Although the Clinton administration has endorsed performance-based contracting,

it does not support the Davis bill. The Office of Management and Budget

said it agrees that federal agencies "should not specify experience and

education requirements for contractor personnel," but the administration

would rather work on improving management practices than creating additional


"We're not necessarily happy about having to pass another law, but there's

no other way to get the attention of federal contracting officers," Grkavac



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