Report: Biden Administration Must Prioritize Workforce, Tech Modernization

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The government employs 19 times more mission-critical IT employees over the age of 50 than under the age of 30, according to the Partnership for Public Service.

Attracting new and diverse talent to the federal workforce and modernizing sometimes outdated technology are two keys to building a better federal government, according to the Partnership for Public Service’s 2020-2021 Impact Report.

On the workforce front, onboarding processes are too long, employee engagement is poor compared to private-sector counterparts, and minorities are not well-represented among senior federal ranks, the report argues. It takes 98 days to onboard new talent, and only 7% of full-time federal employees are under the age of 30. Moreover, almost three in four young people who left the federal ranks in 2019 had served fewer than two years.

While people of color represent 46% of all full-time, entry level employees, they only represent 22% of career Senior Executive Service members and 32% of senior level (GS 13-15) positions. The tech workforce is perhaps the most troubled, with the government employing 19 times more mission-critical IT employees over the age of 50 than under the age of 30.

“The federal government is failing to recruit, hire and retain skilled and diverse talent,” the report states. “The hiring process is long and complicated, the workforce is aging, the competition for top talent is fierce and federal employee engagement lags behind that of the private sector.

The report offers some solutions to the government’s long-standing workforce dilemma. The government should target young people, including college students, en masse through internships, campus recruiting and more university partnerships. Further, the government could better compete with private-sector companies—which often offer higher pay than public sector employers—by increasing employee engagement levels. The result, the report states, would be improved workplace culture within federal ranks.

Tech, too, continues to challenge federal agencies from the operational and service delivery perspectives, the report states. The government spends 80% of its annual IT budget—upward of $90 billion—on operating and maintaining existing IT systems, leaving little money left over for investing in emerging technologies. Further, the federal government is last among all major economic sectors in customer satisfaction. And about 40% of federal civil servants feel creativity and innovation are rewarded in the workplace, the report states. Many of these longstanding challenges were magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic illuminated the technology challenges government faces at a time when technology was vital for federal employees working remotely, collaborating across the federal enterprise and delivering services to the public,” the report states, “Federal agencies offer few incentives for employees to try new ideas, are saddled with outdated technology and lag behind the private sector in hiring qualified technologists for critical leadership and staff positions. The government rates poorly compared to the private sector when it comes to providing high-quality services to the public.”

To improve these tech issues, federal leaders need to better understand new and emerging technologies and how to use available tools to deploy them to better meet missions. Federal managers should seek to “create an environment that fosters and rewards innovation, encourages experimentation with new approaches to solve problems.” Lastly, the report says agencies should focus on improving the customer experience “for all people who interact with the government.” 

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