Feds faulted for tough IT hiring requirements
- By William Matthews
- Jun 19, 2000
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