Bill calls for tech worker exchange program

Rep. Tom Davis, R.-Va., chairman of the House Subcommittee on Technology and Procurement Policy, introduced a bill Tuesday to create a workplace exchange program between federal information technology employees and high-tech workers in the private sector. Davis said he wants to make a "down payment on the human capital crisis" that looms over a federal workforce rapidly approaching retirement. Under the "Digital Tech Corps Act of 2001," any federal employee at grade level GS-12 and above could, upon authorization from an agency head, leave the government for up to two years to work with a private company. In return, private IT employees would be loaned to the government for similar periods, then go back to their respective corporations. Davis characterized the bill as a "cross-pollination" of industry and government, whereby each sector would benefit from the expertise and knowledge of the other and then take their experiences back to their respective organizations. "I believe that we can help government transform itself by creating a new vision of public service for this century," he said. Agencies could begin their exchange programs upon completion of an agreement with a private entity, Davis said. In all cases, employees would continue to receive their same pay and benefits from either their public or private employer. Davis' bill won immediate support from Steven Kelman, the former administrator of the Office of Procurement Policy during the Clinton administration and now a professor of public management at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. "I am a frontline solider in the government's war for talent," Kelman said. As a teacher of young people, Kelman said he knows that many of today's youth expect to change jobs several times in their careers and that they are more inclined to take time out for public service than any other generation before them. The government offers young people very little opportunity for short-term employment, he said, adding that he hopes Davis' bill will be "the first step toward a cultural change" in the federal government. The bill also piqued the interest of David Walker, head of the General Accounting Office; Kay Coles James, the new director of the Office of Personnel Management; and Stephen Perry, administrator of the General Services Administration, all of whom testified before Davis' subcommittee about the steps their agencies are taking retain and recruit employees. James, who has been on the job at OPM for only two weeks, told Davis that her agency's creation of special pay rates for IT workers in all agencies is a prime example of the kinds of administrative actions OPM has taken to prepare for the coming worker shortage. Perry told Davis that of GSA's more than 14,000 employees, 8 percent are classified as IT workers, making it one of the single largest worker pools in the agency. That population has been reduced over the past five years by 14 percent due to retirements, Perry said. Perry said GSA is trying to improve the quality of worklife for its employees to compensate for the lower pay they receive. This includes finding meaningful projects for employees to work on, as well as investing more of the agency's budget in cash awards and employee recognition. GSA also takes advantage of OPM's special salary provisions for IT workers, he said.
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