Digital Tech Corps at risk

A bill just passed by the House of Representatives that would create a public/private exchange program for information technology managers in government and the private sector has little chance of making it through the Senate, say the two major unions representing federal workers.

The Digital Tech Corps Act of 2002 (H.R. 3925) would allow midlevel IT managers in federal agencies and private companies to swap jobs for at least six months and as long as two years. The House passed the bill April 10 on a 219-204 vote.

The National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) and the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) charge, however, that the bill would deprive federal workers of appropriate training, alert the private sector to outsourcing opportunities without ensuring a competitive bid and put sensitive information in the hands of those who could misuse it.

The bill passed with two amendments in the House.

Now that the bill is in the Senate, "I think the Digital Tech Corps is crippled, perhaps even dead, considering how controversial it's been," said AFGE legislative representative John Threlkeld.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee's Technology and Procurement Policy Subcommittee, would disagree.

The Digital Tech Corps "will improve the skills of federal IT managers by exposing them to cutting-edge management trends in the private sector; help federal agencies recruit and retain talented IT managers by offering them a valuable career development tool; and allow private-sector IT managers to apply their skills to challenging IT problems at federal agencies," Davis said in a statement upon the bill's passage.

Major industry organizations that lobbied hard for the bill in the House also believe it will pass in the Senate. The House vote "bodes well for action [in the Senate] by the end of the session," said Olga Grkavac, an executive vice president with the Information Technology Association of America, which has pledged support for the legislation from its more than 500 member companies.

But there is little word so far from the Senate itself on the bill's prospects.

In early February, Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) introduced a companion bill, S. 1913, that was referred to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. It is uncertain if the bill will be reported out of committee now that the House version is available for Senate action.

"We're hoping that sometime in the near future [the Governmental Affairs Committee will take action], but as of now, we don't know," said Kelly Fitzhugh, Voinovich's communications coordinator.

The first House amendment to the bill requires that 20 percent of the federal workers detailed to the private sector under the program be placed with small businesses. The second amendment requires the Office of Personnel Management to report to Congress on the adequacy of existing IT training programs available to federal employees and how those programs can be improved.

The second amendment also prohibits companies from charging costs associated with the Tech Corps program to contracts that they hold with the federal government.

To counteract fears that the Tech Corps program would endanger trade secrets, Davis added provisions to the bill that ban participants from talking about proprietary information for the rest of their lives. If they do talk, participants would be subject to criminal penalties of up to five years in jail and up to $50,000 in fines.

In a letter April 12 to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, however, AFGE National President Bobby Harnage said the bill "merely contracts out supervision of [IT] programs to short-termers whose ultimate loyalty is to their firms and their industry."

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Corps arguments

According to Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), sponsor of the Digital Tech Corps bill, the legislation would:

* Give government information technology employees the opportunity for intensive, on-the-job training in how to manage complex IT projects.

* Give industry IT employees the opportunity to volunteer for public service.

* Enable broader public/private exchanges of IT workers.

However, the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union charge that the legislation would:

* Make valuable government and citizen information available to companies, potentially compromis

ing privacy and security. * Deprive federal employees of vital in-house training.

* Enable firms to scout potential outsourcing opportunities before they are bid on competitively.

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