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GAO Tells State Department to Assess IT Workforce Recruitment and Retention Practices

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) review of the Department of State’s IT workforce has found a need to assess workforce recruitment and retention measures.

GAO found that the State Department has implemented some workforce recruitment and retention best practices for its IT staff, including raising entry-level pay for experienced applicants and expanding incentive pay. However, there is no plan in place to gauge whether these measures are working—such as establishing metrics and regularly assessing its current and future workforce needs.

As of April 2021, State employed a workforce of about 76,000 employees in the U.S. and in more than 270 embassies, consulates, and other posts worldwide. In addition to having approximately 1,000 IT specialists in the Foreign Service and some 900 in the Civil Service, State employs contractors who help run the department’s IT systems and programs overseas and domestically. As of April 2021, State relied on approximately 3,700 IT contractor staff. Locally employed staff who perform IT functions often are responsible for IT management, system administration, and telephone and radio maintenance. Of the more than 50,000 locally employed staff at overseas posts, approximately 2,000 of them performed IT functions as of April 2021.

Of 15 recruitment and retention practices GAO evaluated in its review, the Department of State has fully implemented one, partially implemented 11, and not implemented three. For example, State has collected training performance data, but has not recruited continuously year-round for most of its IT positions or regularly assessed staffing needs. 

The government watchdog identified 10 challenges related to State recruiting and retaining its IT workforce. These included a narrow marketing and recruiting focus, low pay and a limited number of incentives and promotions, a lengthy hiring and clearance process, and inaccurate position descriptions and insufficiently detailed announcements. For example, IT staff told GAO that State’s marketing and recruitment strategies focused on reaching a small portion of the population. Further, IT staff noted the general public did not have an awareness of State’s mission and the IT employment opportunities that were available.

GAO’s review found that State has acted to overcome some of these challenges, including raising entry-level pay for experienced IT applicants and expanding its incentive pay program. State’s policy calls for access to timely and accurate data to set performance metrics and for a plan to monitor and evaluate progress toward achieving goals. However, GAO found that State does not have such IT workforce data needed to set performance metrics, nor does it have a plan to monitor and evaluate progress toward achieving its goals. 

GAO is making 16 recommendations to improve State’s IT workforce management. State concurred with 15 but did not concur with one on expanding the number of Foreign Service IT positions available to external applicants year-round. 

State told GAO of its plans to meet the remaining fifteen recommendations. For example, the department stated that it was in the process of drafting an IT strategic workforce plan for the Civil Service and Foreign Service that it expects to be completed by the first quarter of fiscal year 2023. The department also plans to design and implement a Foreign Service Applicant Tracking System to determine the effectiveness of the department’s recruitment efforts in the Foreign Service. Additionally, the department created a retention unit to develop a comprehensive department-wide retention strategy and plans to implement an IT Skills Incentive Program to improve retention and career development. State also plans to update the domestic and overseas competency studies in fiscal year 2023. 

Read the full report at GAO

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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