Survey: Up to 70 Percent of Government IT Staff Will Depart Within 5 Years


The top workforce challenge identified by CIOs was workforce planning.

Attracting, retaining and developing key IT talent remains the top challenge among federal chief information officers and chief information security officers, according to a new survey.

The survey of 59 federal CIOs, CISOs, information resource management officials and congressional oversight committee staff by TechAmerica and Grant Thornton, found that 52 percent of respondents indicated that IT workforce issues – training, recruitment and retention – remains their biggest challenge. In fact, one respondent said they were “five years behind in terms of talent.”

“In many agencies, technology skills are housed in the contractor workforce,” the report states. “As contractor budgets are reduced, the federal workforce is expected to take on more of the work formerly completed by contractors even though they often lack the skills to assume these responsibilities. A reduction in budget for training, conferences and other programs such as internships and rotations exacerbate this gap.”

The top workforce challenge identified by CIOs was workforce planning, with many respondents noting they are struggling to understand their workload and the needed skills to manage it. Respondents expect the departure of anywhere between 20 percent and 70 percent of their IT workforce in the next five years, yet most noted that federal IT departments are unprepared for handling the turnover.

“The long waits for hires, the cumbersome processes and the lack of modern technology only make the other challenges of filling vacancies and planning for turnover more difficult,” the report stated.

Other top challenges included managing the effects of budget cuts on hiring and workload imbalances on performance; changes in the skills and competencies of the workforce; and attracting and retaining skilled IT workers.

Respondents identified a number of innovative ideas for addressing the challenges, including direct-hire authority and signing bonuses to attract top talent; improved recruiting tools connected to social media; hiring reform; flexible work schedules and telework arrangements; and an IT ROTC/Reservist model, where government pays for education in return for service rotations with industry.

Still, while workforce issues were identified as the top challenge, CIOs did not flag it in their list of top three priorities, instead identifying cybersecurity, modernization/innovation and cloud/mobility as their key agenda items.

In addition, the majority of CIOs noted they are moving to shared service providers and/or cloud solutions, with many stating the replacement of legacy systems is a top priority in their offices. While CIOs noted that the majority of their IT budgets are spent on operations and maintenance of existing systems and infrastructure, the amount of funds directed to O&M over the past year has dropped 12 percent (from 85 percent to 73 percent), indicating a shift in focus to development and modernization, according to the report.

“Within this fiscally constrained environment, federal CIO shops are gradually turning the focus to developing with [fewer] resources, highlighting the need to implement innovative and cost-effective technology and processes,” the report stated. 

(Image via Jirsak/