The market for executives

In the current soft market for IT executives, agencies have an opportunity to attract outstanding candidates

Despite increased demand for high-caliber leadership in all segments of the technology community, it wasn't until fairly recently that we saw the migration of top information technology executives between the federal and corporate sectors.

Hank Philcox went from the Internal Revenue Service to become chief information officer at DynCorp, and Renny DiPentima moved from the Social Security Administration to SRA International Inc., where he became president of SRA Federal. It has quickly become clear that federal IT leadership experience laid the foundation for their success.

As far back as the late 1970s, there were some non-political appointments into federal IT leadership roles. And in the late 1980s, Janet Barnes moved from MCI to become the first designated federal CIO at the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. In recent years, more high-profile federal positions have been filled from outside government, with candidates coming from such companies as Oracle Corp. and FedEx Corp. Although critics complain that the average tenure of these federal appointees is only two years, the reality is that the tenure of private-sector CIOs is no different.

Federal agencies now commonly utilize executive search firms to recruit key IT talent. My firm, Paul-Tittle Search Group, has effectively recruited CIO-level executives, program managers and senior technologists from outside government. Our clients, particularly at the CIA and National Imagery and Mapping Agency, are interested in hiring candidates with strong business acumen and competitive, market-driven experience. Although some candidates decline these opportunities because of compensation, we have been able to fill positions with strong candidates with exceptional private-sector experience.

In the current soft market for IT executives, agencies have an opportunity to attract outstanding candidates. Opportunity, challenge and relative stability are as important as compensation. If an influx of talent from the commercial world is brought in, we can expect to see continuing changes to the federal IT marketplace.

The most notable change that will eventually accrue is bridging the perception gap between the two communities. As more experienced private-sector executives flow through the federal community, there will be an increasing number of examples to follow. Eventually, at least in the Washington, D.C., area, there may well be a much-improved respect for federal executives and significantly increased flow of executives in both directions.

The downturn in the dot-com and telecommunications sectors in the local marketplace means the greatest hiring needs for IT executives are with federal systems integrators. Those firms should more aggressively seek out federal IT leaders who already understand that business from the "client" side. The strategic technology leadership role of the senior IT executive today is very similar in the private and federal sectors.

Tittle is president of Paul-Tittle Search Group, McLean, Va.

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