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Can agencies pay enough to attract top IT talent?

Guest entry by Federal Computer Week Editor John Monroe.

In the various debates about outsourcing, insourcing and federal pay, one issue almost always comes up: The tough competition for IT talent.

Although federal agencies have the advantage of doing some very cool projects, they still have a difficult time competing for up-and-coming IT workers, many readers say. The problem is that techies working in hot fields – developing enterprise smartphone apps, for example -- demand pay and perks outside the range of the General Schedule system.

“Our agency’s IT department is having to create non-supervisory 14s to hire system administrators because we can't compete with private industry in pay,” wrote an FCW reader who called himself or herself Fed Up. “In three years, we'd probably only be able to hire a system admin only if we open the position as an SES position.”

Those young Turks are more likely to end up working for a software vendor or systems integrator already working in the sweet spot of the IT industry, rather than a federal agency, the theory goes.

That was the case of an information security expert who had recently left the Defense Department after just two years on the job. At first, the reader was willing to accept the fact that former colleagues in the private sector were making a lot more money. But then rumors of a pay freeze began and that was too much.

“I really want to serve (I have 15 years of previous state and local government experience on top of my private sector experience), but I refuse to be a punching bag for the politicians while my family suffers,” IT Sec wrote. “Take note, new feds: Your elected officials don't care about you. If you can do better for yourself on the outside, go for it. I'm happy I did.”

If agencies cannot attract top talent, how does that affect their insourcing/outsourcing strategies? Should agencies simply cede the competition and spend more money on contractors any time new technology is involved? Or is that giving up too much control?

What do you think?

Posted on Apr 18, 2011 at 12:18 PM


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