The U.S. government’s program to improve federal information technology not only involves different types of electronic tools, such as cloud computing — it also involves improving the talent pool of federal IT personnel. A new initiative designed to attract the best and brightest talent underscores the federal effort to upgrade the government IT workforce.
“Challenges with IT program management have long been pervasive across the federal government due to a general shortage of qualified personnel,” said federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel. “The result was not only slower progress than the private sector but in some cases millions in taxpayer dollars wasted due to personnel lacking the expertise to manage and oversee such large projects.”
The initiative, announced by VanRoekel Sept. 15, is the federal Technology Fellows Program — a spin-off of the 34-year old Presidential Management Fellows Program (PMF). Through a competitive process, graduates of top advanced academic programs with significant experience in the field of information technology, computer science or IT policy will serve as fully paid technology fellows for two years.
The Tech Fellows will supplement the cadre of PMF appointees and will be selected under the existing hiring authority of the PMF program.
“We expect the Tech Fellows program to cast a wider net for the PMF program by reaching into the underrepresented technology industry. These placements will not supplant other professional areas that are currently represented in the PMF program,” says the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in a statement provided to CRM Buyer by spokesperson Moira Mack. The number of tech fellows will depend on the outcome of the selection process.
Fellows will have the opportunity to actively participate in rotational assignments and gain in-depth experience in managing large and complex IT programs. Designed to integrate the next generation of IT professionals, the program will enable the federal government to tap into the emerging talent pool and begin to build a sustainable pipeline of talent.
“The program will provide young, talented graduates who are interested in technology with a place in the very prestigious Presidential Management Fellows program, which is highly regarded across agencies as a terrific source to hire and train future managers and leaders,” Dan Chenok, senior fellow at IBM Center for the Business of Government, told CRM Buyer.
“They will be able to participate in programs and issues that have great import for government programs and the citizens they serve, providing an incentive for highly skilled and motivated IT professionals to consider a government path instead of immediately taking a private sector position,” he said.
Developing a fellowship program within 12 months was among the 25 objectives of the federal IT reform plan issued in December 2010 by then federal CIO Vivek Kundra. The tech fellows program was part of fulfilling the mandates of the reform plan, noted Lisa Schlosser, deputy administrator of the Office of E-Government at OMB.
“We have commitments from several agencies to hire fellows in the program,” she said at an IT forum hosted Sept. 22 in Washington by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA).
Fellows Provide Fresh Look
However, some of the deficiencies of the federal IT workforce identified by both government and private sector analysts have not been technical expertise per se, but related factors such as a reluctance to fully engage commercial vendors, a bias towards “silo” cultures with little integration across government agencies, and lack of awareness of innovative tools. One challenge of the fellowship program will be to ensure that the fellows are mentored in such a way as to avoid perpetuating these weaknesses.
“I think we are making progress to counter the reluctance of federal IT personnel to engage with the private sector and to address some of these other deficiencies. The best way to avoid passing on the shortcomings is to reduce them in the first place with the reform program,” Schlosser told CRM Buyer.
The tech fellows, in fact, could bring new thinking to existing federal IT programs.
“Tech fellows will likely bring a fresh perspective to the agencies and systems that they work on — it’s likely that they will have a very positive impact by opening agencies up to new approaches and ideas for using IT to effectively achieve their mission,” said IBM’s Chenok. “Moreover, many government IT professionals are looking for strong future leaders, and would welcome the chance to help ease the path for new entrants to help improve the federal workforce,” he said.
“The fellows will be at the forefront of the ambitious and highly successful IT reforms taking place across federal IT. Placement of the tech fellows will be carefully considered and sponsored by the CIOs of the respective agency that a tech fellow enters so that they are presented with challenging and unique career opportunities,” says OMB in its statement.
“The program will have direct support from both the White House and the Federal Chief Information Officers Council,” it continues. “We will provide professional development and unique networking opportunities for these individuals as well.”
The Federal Buzz: Notes on Government IT
Bulking Up: In view of potentially flat spending levels for IT in an era of tight government budgets, CACI International bolstered its federal revenue resources by acquiring two businesses in the last month. On Sept. 23, CACI said it would acquire Advanced Programs Group, an Oracle Platinum Partner and provider of Oracle e-Business services in the federal market. APG has contract vehicles with the Defense Department, the National Institutes of Health and the Department of the Interior’s National Business Center. APG’s revenue in 2010 was US$41.9 million.
On Sept. 1, CACI completed its acquisition of Paradigm Holdings, which provides cybersecurity and enterprise IT solutions to federal civilian and national security agencies. Paradigm has annual revenues of $55 million. CACI provides a full range of IT services, knowledge management, and logistics and material readiness services. The company reported revenues of $3.6 billion for fiscal 2011, with 95 percent of revenues generated from federal agencies.
Botnet Prevention: Two federal agencies are seeking help from the private sector and any other parties to detect and control “botnets,” defined as “collections of compromised computers that are remotely controlled by a malevolent party.” In a Sept. 21 notice in the Federal Register, the Departments of Commerce and Homeland Security asked for comments by Nov. 4.