A top government official last week encouraged federal managers to take advantage of employment incentives already in place to recruit and retain a talented information technology workforce. "Push existing programs to the maximum extent possible," said Ira L. Hobbs, deputy chief information officer at the Agriculture Department, during last week's annual Association of Government Accountants federal leadership conference in Washington. "Let your employees know you are struggling for them." Hobbs suggested agencies use a new student loan repayment benefit
and provide more training for employees as a recruitment and retention incentive. Until the personnel process is revamped, he said, managers need to look for flexibility within the current system. For example, pay raises for certain IT workers
that took effect in January should enable agencies to attract young people to entry-level positions that have been the hardest to fill. However, Hobbs said managers tend to think they need to replace workers who leave with same-grade employees. "Just because you lose a GS-14, it doesn't mean you have to hire a GS-14," Hobbs said. The federal Chief Information Officers Council has been working with the Office of Personnel Management on issuing new job classification standards for IT workers and on reforming IT pay systems within the government. As for recruiting employees, Hobbs said face-to-face contact with people is crucial. He said it is no longer feasible for managers to simply fill out a form listing the qualifications they are seeking and then give the form to the personnel office. "Managers and executives need to be personally involved if they want to recruit and retain the right people," said Hobbs. Hobbs said talking to students at the high school and college-age levels about the benefits of public service is also important. He noted that when he was a teenager in Tallahassee, Fla., federal employees came to his high school to talk about the government's plan for school desegregation, inspiring him to become a public servant. According to the Commerce Department, America will need 1.3 million new IT workers by 2006. The Office of Personnel Management has estimated that 30 to 35 percent of the IT workforce will be eligible for retirement in the next five years.