Selling public service

Former federal IT execs brainstorm work force strategies

Former government information technology executives said they gained valuable

management and leadership skills during their public-service experience.

However, persuading new IT workers to join government service today is

a much harder proposition than it was 20 or 30 years ago when they joined.

"I'm afraid it's a tough sell," said Anne Reed, former chief information

officer at the Agriculture Department who two months ago became vice president

of the Government Global Industry Group at Electronic Data Systems Corp.

"I think all the reasons we're called to public service still exist, but

the barriers are greater."

Reed, who entered government service through the Presidential Management

Intern Program in 1981, said that today such interns are offered about $35,000.

Private-sector starting salaries are more than double that figure, so potential

employees are choosing to work for private companies, Reed said, speaking

on a panel at the FOSE conference in Washington, D.C.

"The environment today is different than when I came into government," said

Cindy Samuelson, director of marketing, public relations and sales at Lucent

Technologies. Samuelson spent about 27 years in government IT-related positions.

When she started, citizens did not have the negative perception of public

servants that they do today, she said, adding that most recent presidential

candidates have campaigned against the government in some way. "This doesn't

recruit people to fill the jobs."

Agencies are encouraging employees to leave through downsizing and buyouts,

said Renny DiPentima, who worked in government for 30 years, most recently

at the Social Security Administration. He now heads SRA International Inc.'s

federal business. "The challenge of IT managers will become harder and harder,"

he said.

Still, there are ways agencies can maximize their chances for being

successful in recruiting and retaining IT workers. Covering tuition expenses

and providing an environment that balances work and home life will help,

DiPentima said. "Not everyone wants to work seven days a week, 20 hours

a day," which is what many people working for Internet start-ups are experiencing,

he said. "A lot of those people are becoming disenchanted."

Another key to keeping workers is to "make them stretch" and test their

abilities, said Gil Guiarino, who is senior principal at American Management

Systems Inc. and who worked with the Air Force for 20 years. "Outsource

what is not core to the agency and provide more responsibility" to those

workers who stay on to manage the IT projects and contracts, he said. "You

have to understand who you are. If you want to be an engineer, go to industry;

if you want to be a leader, go to government."

Remaining a constant in public service is the opportunity to take on

wide- ranging responsibilities and to hone leadership skills, the panelists

said. These experiences led to the opportunities they now have in the private

sector. "I am having a great second career," DiPentima said, "but I remember

my roots."

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