Building the IT Talent Pipeline

Federal brain drain potential may be highest in science and tech.

With nearly two-thirds of federal senior executives slated to retire over the next five years, the time is now for agencies to begin building and strengthening a talent pipeline to take over critical executive roles, according to a new report.

Building the Leadership Bench,” released Tuesday by the Partnership for Public Service and McKinsey & Company, found that senior agency leaders and top career and political leaders do not focus enough attention on identifying, recruiting and selecting talent for the SES. The government also lacks a central authority for developing talent, forcing each agency to develop its own methods for managing the talent pipeline.

“For our federal government to secure the executive talent it needs for the future, agencies must bolster their talent pipelines and take a more strategic approach to developing the capabilities of potential leaders who can serve as governmentwide assets,” the report states.

While the report did not focus on technology executives specifically, the potential for brain drain and the need for a strengthened talent pipeline may be even higher in science and technology fields. A report released in May by the Partnership and Booz Allen Hamilton, found that science, technology, engineering, math and medical fields are more top-heavy than other federal job fields, with nearly half of federal STEMM workers over age 50.

Strong SES workforce planning should include defining leadership needs, building a pipeline of future leaders that emphasizes training and career development opportunities, simplifying the hiring process and continuously assessing and improving leadership development programs, according to the report.

Strengthening the SES talent pipeline also will require agencies to cast a wider net when it comes to finding qualified talent, the study noted. For example, just 8 percent of new career SES members were hired from outside the federal government in fiscal 2012, compared to 76 percent who were hired from the same agency and subcomponent in which they were already working.  

“Agencies should pursue partnerships and short-term exchanges with business, academia, state and local government and others to give external candidates exposure to federal service,” the report states.