Patriot games: The IT call-up

Uncle Sam wants you for work, not war. Within the next five years, approximately 45 per cent of all federal workers will be eligible for retirement, says Steve Rohleder, managing partner of the U.S. government practice at Accenture Ltd. IT positions will be hit hard as workers decamp for private industry, where salary caps don’t apply.

To combat the situation, Rep. Tom Davis (R.-Va.) sponsored legislation to create a Digital Tech Corps. The bill has passed in the House, and it’s headed to Sen. Joseph Lieberman’s (D-Conn.) Governmental Affairs Committee for a vote.

Under the bill, private industry would let IT professionals do a stint in the federal government for six months to two years and let them retain their corporate benefits. They wouldn’t become federal employees but would work in the government. Individuals with the skills and desire to fill government positions would receive government-level salaries from Uncle Sam while the companies make up the difference of their private-sector pay.

IT workers could gain valuable experience working for the government, and the government would get the benefit of highly trained private-sector workers. But the bill would go a step further in making it possible for government workers to temporarily move to the private sector while retaining their government benefits and pay.

“The legislation would permit a two-way transfer of talent that will reap great benefits for the American people, as our government gets an infusion of IT talent to kick-start e-government initiatives and help fight the war on terrorism at home and abroad,” said Davis.

Grand and noble thinking, but the necessity of such a bill highlights the harsh truth behind patriotism in an age of stock options, job mobility and self-interest.

Eighty percent of college graduates have little interest in going into public service because of the pay, says Steve Kelman, a professor of public policy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. “This bill is a practical way to provide an opportunity to have people commit a portion of their career to public service,” he says.

Kelman, who worked to reform the way the government buys IT products as administrator in the Office of Federal Procurement Policy in the Clinton administration, said some of the biggest issues in government involve the interconnectivity between agencies, the ability to manage large IT projects, and cyber security.

Accepting that patriotism costs money may be unpleasant, but if companies and individuals support the bill, more people will be able to say they did something during the war on terrorism.

Do your part by contacting Sen. Lieberman at urge him to pass the legislation. Pimm Fox is Computerworld’s West Coast bureau chief. Contact him at