Agencies lag on IT workforce planning, GAO says

The congressional watchdog warned that agencies are putting billions in spending at risk by not taking steps to raise skills and competencies in the IT workforce.

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Federal agencies are lagging on planning activities designed to improve the information technology workforce, according to a new report.

The report from the Government Accountability Office dives into how large federal agencies are doing implementing a GAO framework designed to assess and address gaps in skills in the federal IT workforce. GAO's framework, established in Nov. 2016, was based on technology and procurement legislation and official guidance, and offers agencies a benchmark for measuring progress in workforce planning.

At risk is $90 billion in annual IT spending. The report noted that IT projects "too

frequently fail or incur cost overruns and schedule slippages while contributing little to mission-related outcomes." Improving the workforce, the auditors state, can help "facilitate the success of major acquisitions."

Results were mixed. None of the 24 audited agencies had fully implemented all eight recommended activities, but a majority of them had partially, substantially or fully implemented at least three of the planning activities: developing competency and staffing requirements, assessing those needs regularly and assessing the gaps in competencies and staffing.

The Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs, State, the Small Business Administration and the Social Security Administration fully or substantially implemented at least those three activities, while 11 other agencies had not fully implemented any activities.

The report said that many agencies aren't making IT workforce planning a priority, "despite the laws and guidance which have called for them to do so." Until agencies establish priorities for improving the IT workforce, "agencies will not have the staff with the necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities to support the agency's mission and goals."

Most government agencies at least periodically assessed IT staffing needs, even if they did not address competency needs, according to the report. The VA, for example, fully addressed competency needs, adding competencies in data analytics, risk management, and project management as requirements of all their IT staff in fiscal years 2017 and 2018, suggesting that some strides were being made to address concerns going forward.

GAO also made 18 recommendations for the agencies involved, which ranged from directing agencies that yet to make any minimal changes to "establish and maintain a workforce planning process" to encouraging agencies that had fully implemented strategies for assessing and addressing staffing and competency needs to continue doing so by consistently monitoring and tracking progress.

Most agencies concurred with the report's findings and recommendations, but several disagreed with or qualified GAO's findings.

Writing on behalf of the Department of Education, Acting Assistant Secretary Denise Carter wrote that the agency partially agreed with the recommendations, stating that in the time since GAO had conducted its study, the agency had taken steps to reach projected target goals of hiring more mission-critical staff, such as IT management personnel and program analysts.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission took issue with GAO’s findings, which stated that NRC had yet to fully implement workforce planning activities, citing that its working group to strategize standard workforce planning had been ratified by the time GAO had concluded its audit.

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