Will the White House’s plan to retrain feds for IT win over the public sector?

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Following last month’s release of the President’s Management Agenda, the Trump administration’s goals of workforce reform and IT modernization have grown more inextricably linked.

In an effort to both streamline agency operations and garner much-needed talent in technology roles, both the President’s Management Agenda and Trump’s fiscal 2019 budget request feature plans to “reskill” federal workers — removing them from transactional duties that will largely be automated and deploying them into IT roles like data analysis and cybersecurity that are continuing to grow in stature.

But with an aging and shrinking federal workforce, the challenge lies in agencies’ ability to locate their personnel with the requisite technical skills and enticing them to stick around in new roles.

“The real problem is there are no worker bees,” said Bill Valdez, president of the Senior Executives Association. “I think the real issue is retraining feds that have an aptitude for ‘cyber’ so that we can get on with the work of doing ‘cyber.’ I think the federal government should take the lead, and to pay for it, because this is a critical national skills gap. And there are plenty of mechanisms within the federal government to enable this to happen.”

Among those mechanisms outlined in the PMA are a plan to overhaul the current federal compensation system with an eye toward instituting targeted pay increases to retain highly skilled workers.

Those proposals do have the tentative backing of some federal employee unions, but that support is tempered by ongoing efforts to reorganize and reduce the size of the federal workforce.

“Offering new training to help federal employees adapt to changing job requirements is a smart way to keep dedicated, experienced civil servants in the federal workforce and is certainly preferable to outsourcing to private contractors,” National Treasury Employees Union President Tony Reardon said in a statement to FedScoop.

“We do not support plans to downsize the workforce and Congress has made clear that the administration cannot do so unilaterally, but in certain cases where jobs are lost, we advocate programs to retrain those employees for other agency jobs,” Reardon added.

Because it can be difficult assessing which employees might have the aptitude to take on new IT roles, SEA is crafting an Executive Cyber Handbook to help guide leaders at agencies on cybersecurity and IT issues, Valdez said.

“[Senior Executive Service personnel] are not the people who do the work, they direct the work,” he said. “So we need to get the senior leaders up to speed on what the requirements are to manage the cyber workforce and direct it appropriately. You don’t need to be a cyber expert to do that, you just need to know what the resources are and what the basic governing principles are for cyber.”

Valdez added that SEA is in talks with agencies like the offices of Personnel Management and Management and Budget, as well as several think tanks, to examine the best practices to modernize the federal workforce.

While the transformation won’t take place overnight, Valdez said SEA supports the PMA as a good first step.

“[The PMA] is exactly the step in the right direction. But what we don’t do very well is plan for change,” he said. “Things are happening at a much faster pace, and the federal government is not institutionally capable of rapid change. What we think needs to happen is that there need to be some fundamental changes in the way we manage people, bring them in, retain them and train them so they can be responsive to these kinds of rapid-fire changes.”

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IT Modernization, NTEU, President's budget, Presidents Management Agenda