Feds' morale sinking, scholar says

ORLANDO, Fla. — Morale in the federal government is sinking, many workers don't know what their mission is and the pay is just too low for many professional jobs, according to Brookings Institution scholar Paul Light.

If the federal government is to attract the best and the brightest, it must undergo a serious reorganization, create a "porous" workforce that can move from the public to private sectors and back again, and pay even better than the private sector, he said.

"We are going to have to figure out a way to invite mid-career professionals into government," Light said March 5 at the Information Processing Interagency Conference, the Government Information Technology Executive Council's annual conference.

Right now, he said, if you don't start working for the federal government at age 18 and dedicate yourself to a slow advancement, there is no way to get in the door unless you are a presidential appointee.

In the post-Sept. 11, 2001, world, Light said workers directly involved with homeland security have a greater sense of their mission. At the Pentagon and State Department, 65 percent said they understand their jobs and what they were supporting. But in other parts of the civilian side of federal government, only 35 percent said they understand their mission.

"Too many federal employees don't relate to the whole," Light said. "Many federal employees don't know what the mission is."

The exception is information technology workers who understand that IT is the "linchpin" of the system.

"IT has been at the heart of many of our successes," Light said.

And the public will depend on it even more in the future.

When the Challenger space shuttle exploded in 1986, there were hours of briefings and hundreds of briefing papers. When the Columbia tragedy occurred a month ago, NASA turned to e-mail and systems to figure out what went wrong.

"The American public is expecting government to deliver more aggressively...expectations could not be higher," he said.

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