GAO dings State Department's IT workforce efforts

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The State Department is currently working on an IT strategic workforce plan to address recruitment and retention issues, according to comments included in a recent oversight report.

The State Department needs to do more to compete for and retain the tech talent that works to protect the department's systems and data from threats and support US foreign policy, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office. 

Among the issues: the department recruits narrowly, lacks the data to review its efforts and contends with the same problems seen across other agencies like low pay and an often-lengthy hiring and security clearance process.

The 11 bureaus reviewed (a sample not big enough to generalize to the entire department, GAO notes) aren't currently fully implementing the majority of the GAO-recommended workforce recruitment and retention practices, according to a report requested by lawmakers and released Tuesday.  

Particularly, GAO found that the State Department doesn't have data on the IT workforce to use for performance and monitoring in regards to recruitment or retention efforts, making it difficult to analyze their effectiveness.

The department "had not consistently collected accurate data on its IT workforce recruitment and retention activities. Nor were the collected data timely and easily accessible so they could be used to establish and maintain a monitoring and evaluation plan," the report states.

The State Department is also recruiting narrowly, GAO reported, saying that multiple Foreign Service tech staff they talked to said that most job opportunities were generally learned about through other State Department employees. The report does state that the department has taken some actions to change this, like expanding recruiting efforts to include military installations and more.

The department has historically struggled with diversity and inclusion, and this type of recruitment doesn't necessarily reach diverse populations, as witnesses discussed at a 2021 hearing on diversity and inclusion in the department. 

"State's marketing and recruitment strategies focused on reaching a small portion of the population," the report states. "By narrowly focusing its outreach and recruitment strategies, the department may not reach all segments of job seekers and individuals with cyber talent who, historically, would not have sought out government careers."

GAO made 16 recommendations for the department, which agreed with all but one.

The department's 2023 budget request states that it continues to ask for "urgent, necessary investments to build and transform our technology and workforce" and fill staffing gaps, efforts it says align with White House priorities to rebuild national security institutions. 

Workforce issues also feature prominently in the department's modernization agenda announced by Blinken last fall. Many of its goals are tied to the need for tech talent, like building expertise in areas like cybersecurity and diversifying the department workforce. There's also a goal to modernize the department's tech and analytics.

According to State Department comments included in the report, the department is currently drafting an IT strategic workforce plan for its civil and foreign service that it's hoping to finish by the first quarter of fiscal year 2023. 

The plan will set up a "strategic approach for utilizing the various hiring mechanisms available to appoint individuals into IT positions throughout the department," like direct hire authorities. 

State is also implementing a recently created departmentwide retention strategy, expected to begin in 2023, and new recruitment incentive programs.

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