Tech job swap program promoted

Federal and private sector technology managers may soon be swapping offices.

The Digital Tech Corps Act of 2002, which the U.S. House of Representatives approved on Wednesday, is a training initiative based on a work exchange between federal and corporate information technology workers in midlevel management.

“The bill has a simple premise: Through partnership, the public and private sector can do a better job tackling government’s IT skills shortage than the government can do alone,” says Representative Tom Davis (R-VA), the bill’s author and cosponsor. “The Tech Corps is an innovative and inexpensive solution to one of the federal government’s most pressing problems.”

The idea is to create a skills-exchange program. IT managers from corporate businesses could spend six months to two years in a federal job while keeping their salary and benefits, while federal employees would work at private sector jobs, keeping their government salary and benefits. Corporate employees would learn the ins and outs of government jobs and stimulate IT programs, while government employees would learn cutting-edge IT management skills during their stints as corporate workers.

Davis says the bill would create “an infusion of IT talent to kick-start e-government initiatives.” The measure next goes to the U.S. Senate, where Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH), has introduced similar legislation. That bill is in the hopper of the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs.

Conflict Concerns

The Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) supports the bill, which it calls a “win-win” situation.

“The government has always had trouble retaining IT workers,” says Tinabeth Burton, a spokesperson for the association. “(The legislation) is also good in that it allows the industry workers to better understand the needs of customers.”

Despite widespread support, an amendment proposed by Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) was barely voted down in the House Wednesday by a 204-219 margin, a Waxman staffer says.

Waxman’s amendment would have prohibited corporate participants in the exchange from working on government projects with access to databases containing competitors’ trade secrets. He was concerned the program would open the door to conflict-of-interest issues. Waxman also argued that the bill does not guarantee federal workers would be trained adequately to justify spending taxpayers’ money on the initiative.

“There was no structure to the bill, that it be a comprehensive training program for federal workers, only that there be a request for one from the private sector,” the spokeswoman for Waxman says. “So it might be useful to the company, but not necessarily helpful to the federal government.”

The Bush administration has put its tech training priorities on public education, pushing for more spending in math and science so new workers will be available to fill the tech jobs of tomorrow.

(Annie Ju writes for the Medill News Service, a PC World affiliate.)