Next-generation IT talent is hard to find

Shutterstock image (by Studio_G): female coding concept design, learning to code.

The new rules under the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act give agency CIOs more say in the executive suite, but being able to attract and keep talented young IT employees could be more important, according to federal CIOs and IT experts who participated in a panel discussion on Feb. 18.

Carlene Ileto, executive director of the Enterprise Business Management Office at the Department of Homeland Security, said FITARA has helped shift the way federal employees view IT and is changing agencies' IT culture. She made the comments during the Association for Federal Information Resources Management’s Women in Technology: Government Leaders Speak event.

Nevertheless, she added that some of DHS’ IT personnel have to be reminded about what the rules do and don't do.

"It's not all about you," she said, referencing FITARA's emphasis on giving CIOs more control over their operations as a whole. Instead, the goal is to make CIOs part of a larger team that includes the chief operating officer, chief financial officer and chief administrative officer.

But Ileto and others on the panel said FITARA does not address an ongoing IT problem at federal agencies.

"Our biggest asset is people," said Beth Killoran, acting CIO at the Department of Health and Human Services. She added that her office is working with the agency's human resources department to develop innovative ways to hire, and keep, younger IT professionals. HHS and other agencies are being whipsawed by younger workers who don't stay long and older workers who are heading for the exits.

There are vacancy rates of 35 percent to 40 percent for cybersecurity and IT positions, Killoran said.

"Developing innovative ways to get good people is key" to any agency's mission, she said. The capability to quickly hire employees and blunt the nine-month-long traditional hiring process would go a long way toward that goal, she said.

Ileto said younger, tech savvy-workers want things to happen fast, including hiring. At DHS, officials have worked with its digital services team to hire young IT professionals and assign them to programs that need the most help.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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