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GAO: Federal IT worker exchange draws little interest

Program, created in 2002, yields no employee exchanges

December 20, 2006 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - A plan to swap federal IT workers with their private-sector counterparts to broaden IT skills and help improve federal IT has not resulted in one employee exchange, a government watchdog agency reports.

The federal agencies participating in the Information Technology Exchange Program told the U.S. Government Accountability Office, which detailed its findings in a report (download PDF) last week, that private-sector companies have shown little interest in this program. A major reason for this, the GAO noted, is that government agencies are most interested in private-sector employees who have skills that are also in high demand by the private sector.

"Employees with desired skills are in short supply in both the federal government and the private sector, particularly in enterprise arrchitecture, project management and information security," the GAO reported. The GAO isn't blaming federal/private-sector competition for highly skilled IT employees alone for the program's stall. It also says a lack of marketing around the program hurt it, as well as some concerns that federal ethics rules on financial disclosure discouraged participation by private-sector employees.

The GAO said the only agency to approve an exchange, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, couldn't work out an agreement with the private-sector company on how to account for the government worker's salary.

The Information Technology Exchange Program was established by Congress in 2002 at the urging of U.S. Rep Tom Davis (R-Va.), who said the federal government was not a leader in IT innovation and lagged behind the private sector. He said the exchange program could be a way to improve the IT skills of government workers. Participating workers would agree to an exchange period from three months to one year.

A check of the IT jobs category at the federal government's hiring Web site, USAjobs.com, found 313 IT job openings, many related to IT security.

Brian McNicoll, a spokesman for Davis, said he hopes that the GAO report motivates federal agencies to undertake the program. A follow-up hearing, however, is uncertain because of the change of leadership in Congress, he said.

The exchange program ends next December unless reauthorized by Congress.

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