Homeland strikes a chord

The proposed Homeland Security Department appears to be the workplace of choice for many people in the federal information technology community.

The reason, according to an informal survey by Federal Computer Week, is simple: patriotism. Of the more than 1,400 people who took a poll on the FCW Web site during the week of July 22, 78 percent said they would work for the proposed department if given the opportunity. Only 16 percent said no, with the rest undecided.

Respondents included military personnel and federal workers close to retirement or already retired.

Carroll Childers, a program analyst with the Army, said he would work for the department "because I appreciate, understand and relish the challenge that will be associated with the undertaking to ensure that America does not lose her place of leadership and responsibility in the world. My forefathers did it for me. I owe it to future generations."

Another respondent echoed the same thoughts. "I desire to, in some small way, give something back to my country for the opportunities I have been given," said a 59-year-old respondent who declined to be identified. "My father retired after 20 years in the Army and served in World War II and Korea. I would like to try [to] accomplish a small percentage of what he did."

Federal unions say appreciation has increased for the work done by the federal government and its employees since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"It is not surprising that those looking at going to work for the federal government or those now working in other agencies would welcome the opportunity to be a part of these agencies, to do the important work done now each day, work that will remain critical for our nation and the American people," said Jim Watkins, spokesman for the National Treasury Employees Union.

"I would be surprised if people didn't want to work there," said Olga Grkavac, executive vice president of the Information Technology Association of America's Enterprise Solutions Division. "People are energized trying to avoid another [Sept. 11]. For many people, it's new opportunities. Not only new challenges and opportunities, but obviously it is a place [that] Congress is going to fund."

What makes the department attractive is its important mission, according to Veronica Ford, a Social Security Administration employee.

"I would work for this department because I believe it has a critical mission to carry out for the safety of all Americans," Ford said.

And Holloway Coats, who works for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, said it would be an "honor to serve" his country.

"I have longed for this country to step up and eliminate the threats that jeopardize our freedom," Coats said. "I desire to be part of that history."

Paul Light, director of the Brookings Institution's Center for Public Service, said the results aren't surprising because the Defense Department and homeland security are "the two places to be right now."

"Anyone who wants to work for homeland security for the paycheck, benefits or job security should apply elsewhere," Light said. "It's going to be the hot department for a while and should make sure that it provides these motivated employees with everything they need to be successful."

Nevertheless, some respondents expressed concerns about the Bush administration's request to give the department more flexibility in how it hires and pays employees.

"As a federal employee, I would not work at the Homeland Security Department until Congress decides on how our current civil rights and guarantees are to be handled," said one respondent who did not want his name used. "I will stay with the Army and still serve my country yet retain my civil service security."

However, most people who responded to the FCW poll said it's not a moment too soon for a new department and job opportunities.

"Qualified people abound, if only given the opportunity," said Scott Verville, a security instructor at the Veterans Technical Training Institute. "This is a timely step...to ensure that our basic way of life is protected in this newer age of information dissemination."

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