GAO says a shortage of telecom expertise slowed transition to a new system and drove up the cost.
Federal agencies are losing valuable telecom knowledge and skills -- along with other critical personnel capabilities -- as the federal workforce ages and retires, according to a study by the Government Accountability Office.
GAO reviewed operations at multiple agencies, including the Departments of Commerce and Energy, and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
The survey found a decline in a number of routine -- but critical -- skills among workers is threatening to snowball. For instance, GAO said that in December 2013, it found a decline in telecommunication expertise across multiple agencies compounded GSA’s challenges in transitioning those agencies to a new network of telecommunications services, contributing to delays and cost overruns of 44 percent.
GAO said GSA's customer agencies are concerned the shortage of telecommunications specialists will get worse because there are not enough qualified candidates to replace experienced workers nearing retirement. GSA has yet to fully study the issue of addressing mission-critical skills gaps and agreed that understanding expertise shortfalls would be useful for future transition planning purposes.
Telecom skills weren't the only flagging capabilities. In 2012, the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management had an attrition rate among petroleum engineers that, according to OPM data, is more than double the average federal attrition rate.
The study also noted gaps in cybersecurity and auditor skills, as well as gaps in almost two dozen occupations with "significant programmatic impact."
The Office of Personnel Management and the Chief Human Capital Officer Council plan this year to identify and address a new set of government-wide skills gaps, as well as how to close them. An interagency group called the Federal Agency Skills Team plans to strengthen the methodology used to identify emerging skills gaps. Additionally, GAO said OPM officials are discussing plans to modify OPM’s workforce database to capture government-wide staffing data.
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