Daniels: Fed IT workers 'not the best'

OMB

Federal information technology workers "are probably not the best the nation has to offer" and are hampering the government's efforts to create an electronic government, the director of the Office of Management and Budget said last week.

Beyond the front-line employees, agencies also lack IT experience at the top, Mitchell Daniels Jr. said at a July 25 luncheon to discuss President Bush's management reform agenda. "I'm not sure we have cutting-edge leadership," he said.

Daniels' comments brought criticism from officials at several agencies, many of whom asked not to be identified. Several said that for an appointee of an administration focused on improving management, Daniels' beliefs demonstrate poor management and lower the morale of the people involved in some of OMB's top priorities.

"There will be no liberty until morale improves," an IT official said of the beleaguered IT workforce.

When it comes to cutting-edge leadership, many of the leaders brought in by the Bush administration come from the IT ranks of the best commercial companies, the official said. They include the OMB associate director for IT and e-government, Mark Forman, who joined the agency in June after three years of leading e-government development at IBM Corp. and Unisys Corp.

The government's workforce problems—one of five items on Bush's management agenda—are affecting matters ranging from creating e-government services to agencies' ability to make the best contracting decisions, Daniels said.

For the most part, federal IT workers do what is asked and perform to the best of their abilities, Daniels said. But the workforce environment — from the old civil service structure to the broken recruitment and retention process—ensures that government workers do not get needed training and keeps experienced people from joining the public sector, he said.

Bobby Harnage, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, called Daniels' remarks "very unfortunate" and said they promote the administration's "privatization agenda." Harnage agreed that employees haven't received proper advanced training and said they are undercompensated. Agencies have the best and the brightest, he said, "but it is hard to hold on to them when you don't pay what they are entitled to."

Daniels said the federal IT community is also spending too much on new stovepiped systems instead of cross.agency initiatives. "The net effect: to put off the day when we have an effective e-government," he said.

The work environment is indeed a problem, but offering better training and job opportunities for federal IT workers would help more than additional criticism, said David Marin, a spokesman for Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.). "We think that there are opportunities for federal IT workers and IT acquisition folks to learn from private-sector experience and vice versa."

Davis plans to introduce a bill this week that would create a "Digital TechCorps," enabling federal IT and acquisition managers to work on assignments in private industry and private-sector employees to work on government assignments.

Colleen O'Hara contributed to this story.

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