Pooling IT resources might help OIGs, but talent shortfall complicates the job

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A federal report’s recommendations on how inspectors general should pool their resources — including information technology — may still not be enough to overcome a shortfall in IT talent, experts say.

The Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency recently showcased six high-impact issues that federal inspectors general could better tackle by combining resources, including IT. But experts say that a dearth of IT talent — and the already heavy demands of oversight — could pose a problem.

The report notes that OIGs are already collaborating on the issues in many instances and lays out strategies for enhancing that collaboration to pool resources and expertise, but one of the major challenges is the same one dogging much of the federal government: maintaining a workforce specialized in topics like cybersecurity and IT.

As the work of IG offices has changed — including more oversight of technology — the problem is only more amplified, said Don Kettl, a professor at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

“You move beyond a kind of transactional, linear approach of the job to one that is more focused on impact, then it takes them away from the focus of the past,” Kettl said. “Then that creates a certain set of capital challenges. The more that they move into IT-based kinds of questions, then the more you get into the broader problem that government in general has with competing for talent in information technology.

“And so, it’s a kind of a double-whammy for the IGs, it’s exactly the right instinct, but it sharpens a tougher set of problems for the IGs to deal with, I think.”

To plug the gaps, the CIGIE report recommends more audit training for staff with IT skillsets and more information-sharing opportunities for OIG cybersecurity staff through cross-agency communication systems.

But if even the combined oversight entities don’t have enough talent to man the audits, the CIGIE report warns that OIGs may overlook some technical reviews or need to contract them to outside audit firms.

“Hiring the right talent remains a barrier for all segments of the government and where the IT community has acute challenges the hiring system that we have today exacerbates those challenges,” said Robert Shea, a former Office of Management and Budget associate director and current public sector principal at Grant Thornton.

The CIGIE report does note that ongoing IT modernization efforts could also help streamline some of these collaborative efforts, such as when agencies adopt cloud similar computing architectures or, in the case of grant reporting, better leverage analytics.

But those solutions would be more likely delivered down the road, said Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president and counsel for the Professional Services Council.

“I think a lot of the information that the IGs have suggested here in this report for analytics are simply not available to the government right now,” he said. “The data systems don’t collect that information, and if they do collect it, there’s not the capabilities — not just knowledge, but I think the tools — to do some of those analytics. So, it’s not a short-term solution, but I think it’s an acknowledgment of a longer-term trend.”

But Dan Blair, senior counsel at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said that while resources and funding remain an issue for both agencies and OIGs, the return on investment that the watchdogs provide is money well spent.

“I think that anytime you proceed down a new path, you are going to encounter obstacles that were unintended or unanticipated,” he said. “I think that those are things that the IGs are going to have to come together and tackle. And I think that is one of the key roles for CIGIE as well.

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Alan Chvotkin, Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Effciency, Office of the Inspector General