The Role of People in Government IT

Refer to the first post from the same conference, here.

Much of talk about IT focuses on how IT is a fast-paced and ever-evolving movement. In all the hustle and bustle of government IT, we tend to forget that the role of people plays an incredibly important part.

Christopher Dorobek sat down with a panel of various experts during a conference, Beyond Mission Imperatives: Shifting Priorities in the Federal Budget, Acquisition and Technology Landscape, to discuss upcoming trends in the government IT world and the pace at which they’re evolving. The panelists consisted of Kimberly Pack, Vice President of Wolf Den Associates; Karen Britton, Chief Information Officer for the Executive Office of the President and Special Assistant to the President; Sonny Hashmi, Chief Information Officer for the General Services Administration (GSA); and Tom Sasala, Chief Technology Officer for the Army Information Technology Agency.

When considering the role of people in the government IT world, the panel agreed that the role of the current workforce, the incoming workforce (i.e. millennials), and citizen engagement are all factors that must be evaluated. Each category presents its own set of difficulties and, combined, it can become quite a tangled web.

First, Britton remarked that Chief Information Officers (CIOs) (and this can be applied to many individuals throughout the federal government concerning IT) have had to recently “unlearn some of the program management processes.” “It’s like learning another language,” she said. Change is never easy, she added, and when someone is forced to alter their way of thinking or working, there may be some natural hiccups in the system overall until the transition is complete.

Second, it is important to re-iterate a known fact: the workforce in general is becoming older. Pack shared that in “2013 almost a little over 340 people retired each day.” From this perspective, the incoming workforce is seeing a shift to a younger generation. As a result, technology is a driving force for the budget associated with the new type of workforce.

However, attracting the younger workforce into the governmental IT world is another challenge. Hashmi mentioned the difficulty behind this issue, because “it is harder today to excite young people to come and join government…and it’s our fault. It isn’t because we can’t offer more salary; it is because the bureaucracy around hiring, retention, and performance management is primarily designed for the industrial age.”

In other words, Hashmi said that the work environment previously in place among former generations in the same positions doesn’t fit into the new IT world. He remarked that millennials “want a challenge, they want the autonomy, they want recognition when they achieved something, they want authority to make decisions…but the culture gets in the way over and over again for them to do that.”

Lastly, the role of those the federal government serves plays a big role in how IT will continue to evolve in this realm. Britton reminded govies “we are just going to have to do a lot better with public services and delivery to the American public in terms of just how we can learn and get intellectual property from citizens.”

All in all, the current workforce, the incoming workforce, and the constituents the federal government serves play a large role in determining the budget, innovation, and acquisition tied to the governmental IT world.

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