CIOs Say They Want Creative Employees, But Most Rate Their Own Staffs Poorly

Mikael Damkier/

Budget cuts and pay freezes are causing major problems in IT shops across government, survey shows.

Budget cuts and pay freezes are forcing many federal IT employees to retire or leave their jobs, causing major challenges with the IT talent pool, according to a new survey. In addition, 72 percent of CIOs said creativity and innovation are critical skills in the federal workplace, but only 14 percent rated their own IT staff highly on those areas. 

The survey of 41 federal CIOs, released last week by TechAmerica and Grant Thornton, found that human capital challenges continue to plague federal IT departments, with problems ranging from an inability to attract quality IT talent to shortcomings with the federal jobs website USAJobs. In addition, funding problems and stagnant pay make it difficult to retain staff, they reported.

In an effort to highlight those pockets of creativity and innovation that do exist in beleagured IT shops and elsewhere across government, Nextgov is now seeking nominations for the Bold Awards. The awards will recognize feds who have implemented ideas that improve government operations and services to citizens.

The TechAmerica-Grant Thornton survey showed that while CIOs place a high value on creative problem-solving and innovation, staffing challenges are creating serious problems.  

“Government jobs used to offer security in a down economy, but this is no longer the case and having a real impact on CIO recruitment and retention,” the study states.

While 28 percent of CIOs listed the budget as the top concern, human capital concerns were not far behind, with 21 percent of CIOs’ vote. Other concerns were cybersecurity (19 percent), governance (6 percent) and acquisition (6 percent). 

While those areas pose challenges, CIOs are looking to other approaches to recruit and retain talent, the study found. Several cited increases in the use of interns through the Student Pathways programs, which offer streamlined employment options for students and recent graduates. CIOs also touted the Presidential Innovation Fellows Program and the Presidential Management Fellows program as good sources of talent.

When asked about the skills most in-demand at federal agencies, CIOs overwhelmingly cited program management (83 percent) and problem solving (75 percent). But when asked whether their workforce possessed either of those skills, no CIO responded with a top rating, though all CIOs agreed that their workforce had average or slightly better than average program management and problem solving skills. 

Among solutions to staffing challenges, CIOs agreed with the need to reform federal hiring tools and rules to make it easier to recruit workers and offer pay and bonus flexibility so that government can effectively compete with industry for talent. CIOs also cited a need to expand the Student Pathways programs, develop new human capital strategies and IT career paths, integrate agile certificate classes into the CIO staff job series and create program management centers of excellence.

For more on the 2013 CIO survey, click here. To nominate someone for a Bold Award, click here