Jason Parry is a vice president of client solutions at Force 3.
With a federal hiring freeze ordered across the board for federal agencies, government organizations find themselves rethinking operations—including IT.
It’s a tough reality for federal IT teams, with civilian agencies seeing the deepest impact. The order heavily affects IT professionals, who already face an array of challenges and limitations between budget constraints, manpower deficiencies and skills shortages.
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While the immediate effects on federal IT remain unknown, the freeze could certainly complicate recent efforts to bolster the U.S. government’s cybersecurity posture. Still, if there’s a silver lining, perhaps it’s this: Federal IT decision-makers can use this time as an opportunity to improve their existing processes, become more efficient and potentially improve security.
Conduct a skills audit: Delivering effective results relies heavily on having the right skills in place. It means not being over- or understaffed—a particular challenge during a hiring freeze, especially when projects are regularly added and removed.
Even so, the freeze presents federal IT departments with an opportunity to step back and analyze their existing workforce. It means they can reorganize their working approach by focusing on using their existing skill sets to the best advantage.
To succeed here, IT decision-makers must formulate a realistic view of where skills gaps and overlaps exist. This starts with a skills audit. They need to understand the skills attached to existing roles and compare this to the current workforce.
In turn, federal agencies can use the resulting findings to improve efficiencies and address staffing issues. For example, on projects where there is a duplication of skills, agencies can reassign staff to understaffed projects.
Be more selective: Federal IT departments are often inundated with projects intended to improve and deliver services. However, the freeze may force IT departments to be more selective and, ultimately, to better prioritize current projects by focusing on those with the greatest potential impact.
While this could delay or impact services, there’s also an opportunity to scrutinize incoming projects more than before. Rather than feeling like every problem must be solved, IT departments will have to be selective and choose the projects with the biggest impact for citizens. Doing this will require executive leadership support but will allow projects with the most importance to remain moving forward and be completed on time.
Embrace automation: A hiring freeze doesn’t necessarily mean a spending freeze. If organizations know what skills they have available and which projects matter most, they can use technology to supplement a lack of human capital.
Imagine an organization with data centers across the country. Traditionally a network or security engineer would be tasked with managing users’ access and permissions levels, monitoring server utilization and manually adjusting network or security policy as necessary.
But automated solutions such as software-defined networking allow organizations to take full control of their networks while handing off repetitive, time-consuming work to computers. Network engineers can write scripts and applications that, once deployed, can automatically adjust permissions or change network policy depending on network behavior. Automation technologies can also enable security policies to dynamically change based on previously set criteria. This allows security professionals to focus more time on new threats instead of threats that have already been identified and remediated.
Taking these time intensive, often repetitive tasks away from IT staff gives them more time invest in value-added work. They can be more strategic and forward-thinking, allowing them to develop proactive solutions that enhance organizational operations as a whole.
The federal hiring freeze is real and has immediate effects for federal agencies. While the challenges are substantial, there are opportunities at hand. While they may not offer a quick fix, they can provide long-term positive results. But to take full advantage, agencies have to be quick-footed and willing to evolve.