The U.S. Congress is attempting to tap the private sector’s IT expertise and resources by allowing federal IT workers to swap jobs with their peers in the corporate world.
The Federal Information Technology Workforce and Acquisition Improvement Act, sponsored in the House by Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) and Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), and in the Senate by Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), was passed by the House in late March. The bill would establish an exchange program between the federal government and the private sector to promote the development of IT expertise. Aimed at midlevel IT managers, the program allows participants to trade jobs for up to two years. Participants would have to apply through their employer and would be required to sign a contract mandating their return to their original job.
“It’s an opportunity for government and private sector IT professionals to cross-pollinate ideas, training and management practices for a better government and a more productive private sector,” Davis says.
Davis’s legislation also addresses a larger problem. More than 50 percent of federal IT workers will be eligible for retirement by 2006, and restrictions on compensation for public sector positions continue to discourage recruitment efforts. In addition, government agencies such as the FBI and the Department of the Interior have come under fire in the past year for having inadequate computer security and IT resources. The exchange program is one way for the government to learn from the private sector’s best practices in these areas, says Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America, a tech trade organization in Arlington, Va.
“This is a good opportunity for the government to share the latest thinking on topics such as security without spending a lot of money or creating conflicts of interest,” Miller says. “Both sectors have tremendous quantities of knowledge that can be valuable to each other.”
Senate action on the bill is expected within the next few months.
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NET GUARD UPDATE
Two months after calling for the creation of an organization of mobilized technology experts (see “Call Up the Net Guard,” www.cio.com/printlinks), Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and George Allen (R-Va.) have taken the next step. In March, the two introduced the Science and Technology Emergency Mobilization Act, which would create a body of science and technology workers who could respond to catastrophes affecting communications and technology.
The bill would establish a structured network of expertise to prevent breakdowns in connectivity and communications similar to what occurred on Sept. 11, says Carol Guthrie, Wyden’s press secretary. According to Wyden, the bill would amass teams of volunteers with science and technology expertise, create a database of private sector equipment and knowledge that emergency officials can call on if needed, and set up a national clearinghouse and test bed for innovative emergency prevention and response. The latter would be overseen by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and would act as “a portal for the private sector to bring their ideas, their people, their expertise and their equipment to bear on the war against terrorism,” Guthrie says. If a natural disaster or a terrorist incident were to occur, the NIST center would be the point of contact when companies or IT workers wanted to help and donate services, she says.
As of press time, the bill had been referred to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.