A boost for techies

The last few weeks have been tough for federal information technology workers. Long recognized as underpaid (compared with their private-sector peers) and, as their letters to this magazine attest, underappreciated, the federal IT workforce took a direct hit July 25 from the top manager.

Office of Management and Budget Director Mitchell Daniels Jr. told a lunch crowd that federal IT workers "are probably not the best the nation has to offer."

True, the federal recruiting, retention and training process does little to encourage the best and the brightest to consider federal jobs or make a career of government service. His comments, however, served only to further demoralize federal IT workers.

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) offered more positive relief for techies July 31 when he introduced a bill to create a nationwide Digital TechCorps. The program offers a one- to two-year public/private exchange program for midlevel federal IT managers and their industry counterparts.

Critics warn the swaps will encourage feds to leave for private-sector jobs. But that view is far too pessimistic. After all, federal bosses managed to lure business types—such as Daniels and Mark Forman, associate director for IT and e-government at OMB—away from more lucrative private jobs.

Steve Rohleder, an executive at Accenture, said Digital TechCorps will "go a long way in restoring esteem to public service." His firm will provide five managers during its first two years.

Aside from the experience—giving industry employees a glimpse of government at work and exposing feds to the less structured, performance-based commercial sector—the program is a small but vital step in delaying a government workforce crisis.

Roughly half the federal IT workforce is eligible to retire by 2006, and agencies constantly struggle to attract and retain employees under an inflexible personnel structure. As Davis put it: "The promise of e-gov is revolutionary, but we face severe implementation challenges."

Innovative programs such as Digital TechCorps are just the boost the IT workforce needs.

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