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 Without them, federal IT managers can find themselves working with hopelessly outdated ideas and information -- worse yet, they might not even know it.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

FCW in Print

In the latest issue: Looking back on three decades of big stories in federal IT.

Featured

  • Anne Rung -- Commerce Department Photo

    Exit interview with Anne Rung

    The government's departing top acquisition official said she leaves behind a solid foundation on which to build more effective and efficient federal IT.

  • Charles Phalen

    Administration appoints first head of NBIB

    The National Background Investigations Bureau announced the appointment of its first director as the agency prepares to take over processing government background checks.

  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.)

    Senator: Rigid hiring process pushes millennials from federal work

    Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said agencies are missing out on younger workers because of the government's rigidity, particularly its protracted hiring process.

  • FCW @ 30 GPS

    FCW @ 30

    Since 1987, FCW has covered it all -- the major contracts, the disruptive technologies, the picayune scandals and the many, many people who make federal IT function. Here's a look back at six of the most significant stories.

  • Shutterstock image.

    A 'minibus' appropriations package could be in the cards

    A short-term funding bill is expected by Sept. 30 to keep the federal government operating through early December, but after that the options get more complicated.

  • Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco

    DOD launches new tech hub in Austin

    The DOD is opening a new Defense Innovation Unit Experimental office in Austin, Texas, while Congress debates legislation that could defund DIUx.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group