Pondering the future of tech talent in government

FCW readers are ambivalent about the role of IT workers in the federal government.

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

The problem is that techies working in hot fields — developing smart-phone apps, for example — demand pay and perks beyond the range of the General Schedule system.

That raises a difficult question for agencies: Are they better off not trying to compete for top talent, at least in the early stages of technology, and instead simply hiring more contractors?

Here’s what Federal Computer Week readers had to say when we put the question to them in a recent "FCW Insider" blog post. Comments have been edited for length, clarity and style.

Check the expiration date
To remain a "top talent," an IT worker has to constantly be upgrading her skills. My experience is that the government does little to help its IT workers maintain top-notch current and relevant skills. Top talent does not want their skills to atrophy, so they are far more inclined to work for an employer that encourages and assists in keeping skills current.
— Steve

Say what? (Part 1)
A former head of the organization (not the whole department) once indicated that he did not want any technical people on his federal workforce. It is a shame that was the CIO. I have wanted to be a fed for a long time but not with these organizations that only want the politicians, the game players, the back stabbers, the power hungry, the typical movers and shakers of bankrupt businesses.
— SOTE Contractor

To each his own
The biggest advantages the government gets from contracting are innovation and flexibility. Innovation in that government can review the approach and technologies of the companies competing and leverage all of that knowledge with their internal knowledge. Flexibility in that if the government is not happy with results, they can stop a contract now and drop the company and its employees, ending the outflow of money. One high-level government person told me that the government would be better off to focus on program management and related control and administration, and contract much of the technical expertise.
— Fair Comparison

Managing the unknown
If you don't have technical expertise in-house, you have great difficulty managing technical programs. How can you respond to a contractor's quote for a project if you don't have anyone in-house who can tell you if that's a reasonable cost estimate?
— Erich Darr

Say what? (Part 2)
Being a contractor, it's odd for me to say this, but bringing in more contractors is totally the wrong thing to do. They cost twice as much as a government employee, they generally are beholden to their company first, and the customer is generally an afterthought. The government needs to get serious about attracting talent and paying for it. A three-year salary cap is only going to make the problem worse and will only drive up costs by forcing the government to outsource more IT.
— Anonymous

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