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IP: Wanted: Y2K Workers

From: [email protected]
Subject: IP: Wanted: Y2K Workers
Date: Wed, 28 Oct 1998 11:44:53 -0600
To: [email protected]

Source:  Government Executive Magazine


Y2K poses personnel challenges for agencies

By Brian Friel
[email protected]

As the deadline for fixing Y2K problems in federal computer
systems draws closer, agencies are struggling to recruit and
retain information technology personnel to deal with the
millennium bug.

In a new study, "Year 2000 Computing Crisis: Status of Efforts
to Deal with Personnel Issues" (GGD-99-14), the General
Accounting Office reports that the high demand for
programmers in both the public and private sectors is making
the difficult job of repairing all federal computers even harder.

"As awareness of the criticality of the year 2000 problem
grows throughout government and industry, there is a chance
that competition for limited skilled personnel will increase. If
this more vigorous competition occurs, the government may
find it increasingly difficult to obtain and retain the skilled
personnel needed to correct its mission critical systems in time,"
GAO said.

In some agencies, the personnel problem has already surfaced.

The Farm Service Agency lost 28, or seven percent, of its 403
technology staff in the first six months of fiscal 1998. Lucrative
finders' fees and big salaries in the private sector have taken
their toll on the government's ability to hire programmers. The
Veterans Affairs Department, Justice Department and
Environmental Protection Agency reported having problems
hiring programmers.

Federal agencies aren't the only organizations having hiring and
retention difficulties. Contractors are having an equally tough
time competing for valuable workers.

For example, at the Patent and Trademark Office, Y2K fixes
were delayed three months on one of the office's systems after
a contractor was unable to hire qualified staff for the project.
PTO had to terminate its task order with the company and find
a new contractor.

A State Department contractor lost key technology personnel,
resulting in a three month delay on Y2K work for the
department's Management, Policy and Planning Information

GAO noted that agencies reported delays in Y2K work for
only six mission critical systems, adding that "it is not possible
to determine the full extent or severity of personnel shortages
from these concerns because they are often anecdotal."

The federal government has taken several steps to attract Y2K
workers. The Office of Personnel Management announced that
agencies could waive the reduction of pensions for
re-employed retired military officers and waivers of the
reduction of pay for rehired civilian annuitants who need to be
brought back on to fix agency computers.

In addition, agencies can offer lump-sum payments of up to 25
percent of basic pay to a new employee or to an employee
who must relocate. Agencies can also use retention bonuses of
up to 25 percent of basic pay. Performance awards of up to
$10,000 are also available.

The President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion and the
Chief Information Officers Council are looking at ways to help
agencies hire and retain information technology staff, but GAO
said no organization is working with agencies individually to
help them find Y2K staff.
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