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Pay and Hiring Freezes Leave Their Mark

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The majority of federal chief information officers say pay and hiring freezes have affected their hiring plans and the morale of their IT workforce.

In a survey of 40 federal information executives by TechAmerica and Grant Thornton, 70 percent of respondents said the current two year across-the-board freeze on federal pay and hiring freezes have had an impact on their hiring plans. Pay freezes also have lowered employee morale, caused some staff to leave and are making it difficult to recruit and hire younger staff, respondents noted.

“Compounding the problem is that, as the nation recovers from the recession that started in 2008, more private sector IT jobs are opening up and competing for the IT labor force,” the report stated. “Some respondents say that federal employee bashing, sometimes by Congress, detracts from the attraction of working for Uncle Sam.”

Respondents also noted that the pay freeze has resulted in fewer incentives for employees to take on projects “outside their comfort zones,” and makes it harder to reward top performers. Budget cuts and pressure to reduce the numbers of contractors make it hard for agencies to fill the gaps left by employee attrition, respondents added.

On a list of top concerns, IT workforce and human capital issues ranked third among federal CIOs, after cybersecurity and controlling costs.

The IT skills needed at federal agencies have not changed much since 2011, with respondents noting the skills they wanted most for their workforce had to do with management, particularly effective project and program managers with skills in communications, managing requirements, design and implementation, processes and contracts. Federal CIOs also want workers with people skills, the ability to work in collaborative teams, negotiation skills, business analysis and budget skills, change management and leadership, the survey found.

On the technology side, CIOs noted the most in-demand skills were application development and mobility, network engineering, cybersecurity and open-source content management systems and frameworks. Specialists who can apply advanced analytics to data to produce better information in monitoring, trending and decision making also are important, CIOs noted. As there has been an uptick in federal retirements in recent months, replacing retiring Baby Boomers will remain a key issue going forward. But more than 50 percent of federal CIOs said they do not have a formal succession plan in place for retiring executives and senior managers. Several CIOs without succession plans said most of their workforce already is younger, so succession planning is not necessary, or that their focus is more on recruiting and retaining younger employees. “Not having succession plans is a grave concern that CIOs must address before it causes a downward spiral in IT leadership capability,” the report stated.

Meanwhile, federal CIOs also ranked mobility as a top concern, with many still determining how to address issues of ownership and access to mobile devices. Some agencies, for example, are embracing the Bring Your Own Device, or BYOD, strategy, while others are strictly against it for security reasons.

Still, while mobility plays into many CIO strategies to recruit and retain the younger generation of workers, it also remains a challenge when it comes to more seasoned workers, as some CIOs face difficulty in getting employees 50 and older to adopt mobile work habits, the survey found. “The only bar to implementing mobile is that senior leaders need to be slowly introduced to the newer technologies in order to adopt them in everyday use,” one CIO said in response to the survey.

(Image via Valerii Ivashchenko /Shutterstock.com)

Reporter Portrait for GovernmentExecutive.com

Brittany Ballenstedt writes Nextgov's Wired Workplace blog, which delves into the issues facing employees who work in the federal information technology sector. Before joining Nextgov, Brittany covered federal pay and benefits issues as a staff correspondent for Government Executive and served as an associate editor for National Journal's Technology Daily. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Mansfield University and originally hails from Pennsylvania. She currently lives near Travis Air Force Base, Calif., where her husband is stationed.

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