GAO: Despite Some Progress, Agencies Continue to Fail on IT Workforce Planning

The federal government annually spends over $90 billion on information technology (IT). Despite this large investment, projects too frequently fail or incur cost overruns and schedule slippages while contributing little to mission-related outcomes. Effectively implementing workforce planning activities can contribute to the success of major acquisitions.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) was asked to conduct a government-wide review of IT workforce planning. The objective was to determine the extent to which federal agencies effectively implemented IT workforce planning practices. To do so, GAO compared IT workforce policies and related documentation from each of the 24 agencies to activities from an IT workforce planning framework GAO issued. GAO rated each agency as having fully, substantially, partially, minimally, or not implemented for each activity. GAO supplemented its reviews of agency documentation by interviewing agency officials.

Federal agencies varied widely in their efforts to implement key information technology workforce planning activities that are critical to ensuring that agencies have the staff they need to support their missions. Specifically, at least 23 of the 24 agencies GAO reviewed partially implemented, substantially implemented, or fully implemented three activities, including assessing gaps in competencies and staffing. However, most agencies minimally implemented or did not implement five other workforce planning activities.

The eight workforce planning activities are:

  1. Establish and maintain a workforce planning process.
  2. Develop competency and staffing requirements.
  3. Assess competency and staffing needs regularly.
  4. Assess gaps in competencies and staffing.
  5. Develop strategies and plans to address gaps in competencies and staffing.
  6. Implement activities that address gaps (including IT acquisition cadres, cross-functional training of acquisition and program personnel, career paths for program managers, plans to strengthen program management, and use of special hiring authorities).
  7. Monitor the agency’s progress in addressing competency and staffing gaps.
  8. Report to agency leadership on progress in addressing competency and staffing gaps.

Agencies provided various reasons for their limited progress in implementing workforce planning activities, including competing priorities and limited resources. For example, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) did not periodically report to agency leadership on its progress in addressing competency or staffing gaps. This failure was due to DHS not developing strategies and plans to address competency and staffing gaps. DHS stated it had not completed some of the other key activities because they were also reliant on finishing other prerequisite activities, which are progressing.

GAO concluded that agencies’ limited implementation of the IT workforce planning activities has been due, in part, to not making IT workforce planning a priority, despite the laws and guidance which have called for them to do so for over 20 years. “Until this occurs,” GAO said, “agencies will likely not have the staff with the necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities to support the agency’s mission and goals.”

Read the full report at GAO

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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