Federal IT hiring slips with political deadlock

Data shows a downward trend in IT hiring after a jump in the size of the government's IT workforce

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In the last couple of years, Holgate said, "it's easier and less risky to bring on contractors than to commit to hiring government employees." Using private contractors allows agencies to ramp up on projects as needed, providing more flexibility. However, the downside is that "private sector people are more expensive on a per person basis than if they were federal employees," he said.

But the flexibility that comes with private contractors is limited. The authority to make management decisions or changes on a team is more direct if all the individuals on the team are employees, Holgate said. "That authority becomes a little less direct, obviously, when there is a contract relationship involved."

Median minimum salaries by month

This chart shows the median minimum salary levels indicated for tech jobs on USAJobs.gov, the federal employment website.

In 2010, the federal government had 75,900 IT workers. The increase in the IT workforce from 2010, by nearly 8,000 IT workers, followed President Obama's push for more insourcing, or work done by federal employees instead of contractors, in government. Obama's first CIO, Vivek Kundra, was particularly critical of federal dependency on large IT contracts, and the hiring of contractors who end up "on the payroll indefinitely."

Ray Bjorklund, who heads market research firm BirchGrove Consulting, said the job growth between 2010 and 2012 "could have been an artifact of the initial wave of insourcing."

Bjorklund said he doesn't see a clear cause and effect in the data. The increase in the workforce happened at the same time that Kundra put emphasis on infrastructure consolidation and data center downsizing.

"Why would you need to add more people, if you intend to reduce the IT footprint?" he asked. Were the feds trying to bring in fresh talent, prior to the accelerated budget constraints, including sequester, that they face today?"

What is clear is that planning in federal IT is harder due to the budget issues.

Steve VanRoekel, the federal CIO, appearing recently before the White House science advisory panel, said that sequestration and the overall budget uncertainty make it "really tough for people to think about, how do I invest, how do I do investment that can drive benefit well into the future?"

For now, VanRoekel said he and other CIOS in government are discussing "things we can do smarter about consolidating resources," and shared services.

Median maximum salaries by month

This chart shows the median maximum salary levels indicated for tech jobs on USAJobs.gov, the federal employment website.

This article, "Federal IT Hiring Declines With Political Deadlock," was originally published on Computerworld.com.

Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov, or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His email address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

See more by Patrick Thibodeau on Computerworld.com.

Sharon Machlis is online managing editor at Computerworld. Her email address is smachlis@computerworld.com. You can follow her on Twitter (@sharon000), Facebook and Google+, or subscribe to her RSS feeds:
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See more by Sharon Machlis on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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