Outsourcing key for congressman's constituents

The current shortage of information technology workers and a coming wave of retirements will almost certainly force the federal government to raise pay for IT workers. But even higher pay is unlikely to eliminate the need for more outsourcing, said Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.).

This puts Davis in the enviable position of being able to give two opposing constituencies what they want.

With 54,000 federal employees in his Northern Virginia district, Davis can please thousands by supporting federal pay raises. But the four-term congressman represents at least an equal number of people who work for IT firms that depend on contracts with the government and benefit when government work is out sourced.

More outsourcing is inevitable. "It's going to increase; it's not going to decrease," Davis said.

For government IT workers, he said, "we've got to relook at how we pay very technically qualified people." Compared to the private sector, government pay for IT jobs is low. He suggests adopting a pay scale for key IT workers similar to the scale the military adopted to attract doctors — some of whom now earn more than twice as much as their nonmedical peers.

The government faces an IT personnel "crisis" because "a lot of our most senior people are due to retire over the next three to four years,"and attracting replacements "is going to be very, very difficult under the current incentive programs, in my opinion," Davis said.

Retirements aren't the only problem. "You get a good person in government,and after three or four years, somebody in the private sector is dangling double the pay outside. A lot of these people just aren't going to stay in government," he said.

But even with better pay, federal agencies are unlikely to be able to attract and retain the IT workers they will need. They will have to rely more on outsourcing, Davis said.

Government workers and their unions have fought against outsourcing,arguing some jobs are so "inherently governmental" that they must be performed by government employees.

That may be an outdated notion. "I think we have to be practical about this," Davis said. "A lot of this work is going to go outside of government not because it's inherently governmental or inherently private sector, but because we don't have the in-house capability to do it in government."

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