Letter to the editor
My experience is that the federal IT workforce here at the Social Security Administration has done phenomenal things considering the lack of current training, current tools and knowledgeable management. Some of the biggest advances have come as a result of a few dedicated individuals who have learned and implemented solutions on their own.
The main problem, as I see it, is inept, narrow-minded, uninformed, excuse-making, scared and turf-protecting management. Contracting out doesn't solve this, they just continue to misuse or underutilize the skills of the contractors. It's the management of IT workers that should be contracted out. We need new blood in the management ranks.
Current managers came up, dragging their heels on applying technology and continue to be way behind the curve. Because they are scared to reveal what they don't know, they don't even consult or trust those who have some idea. Or, in other cases, they make incorrect decisions because they simply are unaware of newer, better alternatives.
It is those managers who don't know the importance of constantly keeping the training of their personnel up-to-date. They wish to hire contractors with current IT skills, then spend two years getting them up to speed on our files and business processes, which we already know. But, because this lack of productivity is not reflected in a "training budget" but rather appears only under the politically correct column of "outsourcing," it is a hidden cost.
When they finally realize they have a need, they are quite willing to spend $400,000 or more to build a Web site that runs way behind schedule rather than use the one — admittedly, with somewhat less functionality — developed in-house in a matter of days. But the employees who developed it learned the technology on their own initiative.
Management, for years, shrugged off my efforts to learn and implement relational databases, object-oriented structures, client/server environments, and programming languages that use modern techniques — other than Cobol and FOCUS. Now they see the beginnings of a need for these technologies in the implementation of a data warehouse and intranet site, but they really don't know what they are doing with them.
Management hasn't kept its own knowledge base up to date. Program analysts with business knowledge are retiring at an accelerated pace here at SSA. Contractors will need to rebuild systems from scratch, without the benefit of their knowledge.
Our systems division continues to be dominated by mainframe-oriented people. While they have taken over the network responsibilities, they are unwilling to allow the access required by innovative individuals who could test and implement creative solutions to new tasks. When they gave us Windows NT on our workstations three years ago, they gave all of us the same, lowest level of security access to the operating system. We cannot share files, directories, do back-ups or in anyway collaborate between systems. The benefits of the technology are not being used. This was done all in the name of security and distrust.
I used to trouble-shoot PCs and PC software, build systems, work with the operating system, and enjoyed reading on my own and experimenting on my systems at home to advance my knowledge. Because I have no authority to do anything on my system now, I have no incentive to advance my knowledge of Windows NT at all. This has hurt our division and my job satisfaction.
Name withheld by request