Life on the other side

Davis bill will provide fed IT managers with industry experience ? and vice versa

New legislation takes aim at the need for skilled midlevel information technology and acquisition managers in government by promoting a public/private exchange program.

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) introduced a bill July 31 that would create a nationwide Digital TechCorps program. It would expose federal IT managers and their industry counterparts to new experiences, foster innovation and "allow for greater knowledge and understanding between the public and private sectors," Davis said at a hearing of the House Government Reform Committee's Technology and Procurement Policy Subcommittee.

The program would allow federal IT managers to work in industry for one to two years, and industry IT managers to work in government for an equal length of time. The program is designed as a short-term solution to the government workforce crisis. An estimated 50 percent of federal IT workers are eligible to retire by 2006, and agencies constantly struggle to attract and retain employees under an inflexible personnel structure.

Moreover, employees are not prepared to manage e-government initiatives, Davis said. "The promise of e-gov is revolutionary, but we face severe implementation challenges," he said. "Too many of our complex IT procurements continue to fail — upwards of 40 percent."

Industry and government officials agreed that an exchange program could help spur e-government initiatives. Consulting and services firm Accenture announced that it would provide five managers for each of the first two years of the Digital TechCorps program. Steve Rohleder, managing partner of Accenture's USA Government division, said he hoped that early program participants "could be dedicated to helping government develop crossagency, Internet-based services."

Such projects could include migrating paper-based services to the Internet, enabling the public to transact government business online and linking federal services to state and local services.

The program also will "go a long way in restoring esteem to public service," Rohleder said at the hearing.

Kay Coles James, the new director of the Office of Personnel Management, also threw her weight behind the Digital TechCorps. An exchange program could "facilitate the flow of fresh approaches to technical problem-solving between the two sectors," she said at the hearing.

Officials from the Information Technology Association of America, the National Academy of Public Administration, the General Accounting Office and the General Services Administration are among the others who demonstrated their support of the Digital TechCorps.

But there are pitfalls. David Walker, U.S. comptroller general, recommended a "cooling off" period during which a company would be prohibited from hiring a federal manager in the program. Also, given that agencies are struggling to find IT workers, Walker said, "the program will work best if more people are coming into government than are going out."

Stephen Perry, GSA administrator, agreed. "I think the situation we face would cause us to put an emphasis on bringing people in."

Davis' legislation is not the first public/private exchange program attempted in government. ITAA and the Justice Department, for example, considered a Cybercitizen Personnel Exchange program in 1999 to help law enforcement and the IT industry work closer on cybercrime issues.

But the program was not implemented for several reasons, such as questions over pay equity, concern over losing talented IT managers and potential conflicts of interest, said Ernst Volgenau, president and chief executive officer of SRA International Inc. "These objections are surmountable," he said at the hearing.

The idea of a Digital TechCorps is "innovative," said Steve Kelman, Weatherhead Professor of Public Management at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Not only will the program provide agencies with an infusion of talented employees, but it also could be the first step in addressing the changing federal workforce, he said.

MORE INFO

A workforce fix

Rep. Tom Davis' bill to create a Digital TechCorps would create a public/

private exchange program for information technology managers. Some program

highlights:

* The program is aimed at midlevel GS-12 through GS-15 managers and

initially will consist of 25 to 30 people.

* Federal employees would be able to work in industry and industry

employees would be allowed to work in government for one to two years.

* The home agency or company would continue to provide pay and benefits

to employees participating in the program.

* Exchange assignments would be coordinated through the CIO Council

and the Office of Management and Budget.

* Participants are expected to work on various projects — e-government

projects in particular.

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