Editorial: Generation gap

The aging of the federal workforce is not a crisis. It is more of a distraction. True, some agencies could find themselves in a pickle if feds begin retiring in great swarms, as has been predicted for years. But agencies know how to adapt to constrained resources. They know how to spread the work around and make do with existing staff.

But making do is not a good long-term strategy. In this regard, many agencies are in danger of turning into the public-sector equivalent of Major League Baseball's New York Mets. Today's Mets are perennial underachievers, always predicted to be competitive in their division but inevitably falling short.

Any real Mets fan could tell you the team's problem. Although Mets management have had some success in luring marquee players from year to year, they do not have the kind of home-grown young talent that forms the core of many successful ball clubs. The fact is, they stopped investing in their minor league system years ago, and now they are paying the price.

In similar fashion, agencies always seem to keep pace with the brain drain at the upper ranks, mourning the departure of star leaders but finding new stars to take their place, at least for a couple of years. This strategy will keep the revolving door between government and industry busy for years to come.

But agencies also need to pay more attention to the lower echelons of their organizations. This is not necessarily where they will find their future chief information officers, but it is where they must develop a dedicated workforce that can carry out the vision of their star free agents.

This is especially important with the technology workforce, because recent graduates are often best-acquainted with the latest thinking in the field. Without them, federal IT managers can find themselves working with hopelessly outdated ideas and information -- worse yet, they might not even know it.

It is not as if feds are wholly ignorant of the challenge. Indeed, the Defense and Homeland Security departments and some other agencies have created internship programs through which they can recruit young graduates or even people looking for a career change.

But it is amazing how little publicity those programs receive, considering their importance to the future of the federal workforce. Perhaps it seems more important to react to the immediate problem of impending retirements. But that's what the Mets do, and they break the hearts of their fans every year.

-- John S. Monroe

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