Government IT industry expert says shutdown affects prospects for 45K open IT positions

As with any conversation in Washington, D.C. regarding government recently, the partial shutdown — then in its final days, it turned out — topped the agenda for my recent discussion with Alan Shark.

He is the executive director of the Public Technology Institute (PTI), a D.C.-based organization created almost a half century ago to help local governments, cities and counties understand and embrace technology in all its aspects. His reactions to the shutdown presented a new and perspicacious twist.

Alan Shark, executive director, of the Public Technology Institute, joined Ask the CIO: SLED Edition this week.

“There are 45,000 open positions today in all facets in the Washington, D.C. area total government and private sector,” he said.

In addition, these positions are by far government related, either directly or with contractors serving the federal IT marketplace.

“But, regardless, when the shutdown ends there will be lasting impact to attracting and maintaining employees, which we already talked about as being a major challenge,” he said.

Why would anybody want to work for government?

As a result of the shutdown, Shark felt that government service unfortunately has become far less attractive and that impression is going to have a deleterious impact for years to come.

“Shutdowns are horrible on so many levels, but in particular, why would anybody want to work for government given the way in which people are being treated?” Shark asked.

Beyond the impact on the IT job market, there is the question of the federal shutdown’s effect on state and local government operations, an issue afforded little attention inside the Capital Beltway during this period. It is generally understood that most government services are actually provided at the state and local government levels. However, far less understood is the fact that the federal funding often constitutes a third or even half of state and local governments’ IT budgets. Major social service, healthcare and criminal justice programs, and their related IT systems are directly funded through state grants and other funding vehicles.

Shutdown impact on state and local governments

Consider the situation where a billion-dollar child welfare case management system is being deployed in California and funded at 75 percent by a federal human service agency. Each month the prime contractor invoices the state which in turn requests reimbursement from the feds. How has that process been affected by a month long government shutdown? This was a question Shark and I considered.

We also posed the question to our mutual friend, Doug Robinson, executive director at the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO). The general consensus is that while no disruptions have been identified or reported so far, this wouldn’t have gone on forever. However, the greatest concern at least up to this time has been the potential effect on food programs funded by the federal government and operated at the state and local level.

It has been reported that funding for 40 million food stamp recipients, school lunch programs, and women, infant and children nutritional programs, for example, may have been in jeopardy come February if the shutdown continued.

Highlights of PTI’s survey of local IT priorities

Beyond the shutdown, Shark highlighted the results from PTI’s annual survey of its members’ IT related priorities for 2019, plus an intriguing comparison of those findings with a similar study conducted by NASCIO the end of last year. This is significant because state and local government IT spending is huge, more than $130 billion per year according to Deltek, $40 billion or more than the federal spend.

“Both the state and the local government CIOs for the last five years have ranked security and risk management as number one. We basically have listed it not as a concern, but as a crisis,” he warned. After security, budget, cost control and fiscal management were top concerns, followed by customer relationship management (CRM). “CRM has moved up very rapidly as local governments are obviously closer to the public.”

Rounding out the top ten categories were consolidation, identity and access management, “a new entry”, he added; then broadband wireless, cloud services, digital government, and finally, data management and analytics.

Coincidentally, all 10 PTI survey priorities were included in NASCIO’s top ten as well. While beyond security, the priorities do not line up exactly but the similarly is fascinating, though perhaps not all that surprising.

Finally, Shark announced a major development at his organization. PTI has merged just this month with the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA).

“CompTIA is the world’s largest independent certification group for technology, but they also have a strong industry program and they have a very strong SLED program, and PTI is now a full subsidiary,” he said

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