A worrisome predicament

For years, the federal information technology community has been aware that it faced a talent shortage and would have to reckon with a drain of experienced and talented IT managers. The time seems to be close at hand, if not already here.

In just the past few weeks, several high-profile, experienced chief information officers and management leaders have announced their intentions to retire. They include John Ortego, who has 32 years of government experience and was most recently director of the Agriculture Department's National Finance Center in New Orleans, and Jim Flyzik, who with 28 years of government experience led groundbreaking IT programs and policies as CIO at the Treasury Department and the Office of Homeland Security.

The Defense Department has begun to lose talent as well. Miriam Browning, the Army's principal director of enterprise integration, and Col. Robert Coxe Jr., the Army's chief technology officer, retired in August, and the Navy's deputy CIO, Ron Turner, recently announced his retirement.

Those individuals and others like them are veterans whose government IT knowledge and management know-how run wide and deep. Government is losing "whole chunks of the decision-making operatives," as Mark Forman, associate director for IT and e-government at the Office of Management and Budget, said last week.

The losses put the Bush administration in a precarious position. Just when the need for e-government and IT to support homeland security is becoming more important, the talent to make those programs successful is thinning.

The Bush administration should not fall into the trap of thinking that these positions can be easily filled. The programs call for well-seasoned, effective managers who know the government IT landscape. But the choices are becoming fewer as more IT managers retire.

The administration should identify those IT leaders who are familiar with federal agencies and the issues they face. The progress of IT and the success of agencies meeting their missions depend on good IT managers.

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