US gov’t moving to fill IT skills gap at agencies

At his inauguration next Thursday, President Bush is expected to outline his goals for the next term. But his IT staff is already at work on one of them: improving IT job skills within the government.

Karen Evans, U.S. administrator for e-government and information technology, said in a report last month that she wants to eliminate what she described as a “skills gap” at half of all federal agencies by the end of the fiscal year in September. That covers a range of IT functions, including information security, application support, systems analysis and project management.

“We want agencies to develop short- and long-term strategies to target investments in people to create a quality workplace designed to attract, acquire and retain quality talent,” Evans said this week in a written response to questions about her plan.

At the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, CIO Steve Cooper recently created an IT Human Capital Center for Excellence intended to be a focal point for skills development. The department is now collecting data on its IT skills and will develop programs that stem from those findings, Cooper said via e-mail.

Cooper said his overarching goal is to build and maintain an efficient and effective IT workforce and make his agency “the employer of choice for IT professionals.”

One key skills area for the government is project management. There are some 76,000 federal IT workers, and many of them work with contractors and outsourcing vendors.

For instance, Input, a market research firm in Reston, Va., predicted last month that federal IT outsourcing will grow at a rate of 8.3 per cent annually, from US$11.7 billion last year to $17.4 billion in 2009.

“What’s driving this is the administration’s emphasis on managerial skills to run complex programs and run them effectively,” said Ray Bjorklund, an analyst at Federal Sources Inc. in McLean, Va. That includes both outsourced and in-house IT projects, Bjorklund said.

Evans said in her report that the government has made significant progress in the past year in increasing the project management skills of its IT staff and that 75 per cent are now qualified as project managers. She added that federal officials continue “to raise the capability and maturity” of IT project managers through training opportunities, such as a planned executive exchange with the private sector. A pilot is due later this year.

Improved project management skills will be necessary to meet another goal outlined by Evans, the government’s top IT official. She said she eventually wants all federal agencies to ensure that performance shortfalls and cost and schedule overruns average less than 10 per cent on their IT projects. This year’s goal is to have at least half of the agencies meet that standard.

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