CXO

IT pros: Uncle Sam wants you!

U.S. government IT hiring is set to soar, thanks to a combination of factors: Government spending on IT continues to rise, security concerns have been renewed post 9/11, and large numbers of government IT workers will soon be eligible to retire.


Working for the government, or for a company that has consulting contracts with the government, offers one bright spot for the IT hiring industry: an oasis of relative calm and stability in an ocean of cutbacks, layoffs, and outright business failures. Increases in government IT hiring are being driven by a boost in spending on IT commercial services, security concerns following 9/11, a shortage of skilled IT workers in government, and the impending retirement of many federal IT workers.

Liberal spending
Every day for months now, we’ve read stories about companies in a range of industries cutting back technology spending. But the federal government is actually boosting its tech spending.

Uncle Sam will pony up roughly $37.1 billion this year for IT, and that figure is expected to reach a whopping $63.3 billion in 2007, according to market research from Input.

Developers, take note: The growth in federal spending will be tilted toward commercial services, as opposed to spending on equipment and software. According to Input, fully $28 billion of the total spending anticipated for 2007 will be on commercial services, including outsourcing, professional services, systems integration, and processing services. This is largely due to the federal IT worker “crisis,” and the increasing requirements for, and complexity of, information operations.

National security
It’s a new world post 9/11, and government-spending priorities over the next several years reflect that. The immediate and most obvious beneficiary of government largesse is IT security, in relation to national defense and the war on terrorism.

In practical terms, this means the government will triple spending on information security between now and 2006. That sector, which is now worth $1.3 billion, will top $4.1 billion within four years. The implication for IT pros is clear: Your best bet for a government job is boning up on security.

Aging federal workers
As noted above, a federal IT staffing crisis is fermenting that will explode by 2006, when more than 50 percent of the government’s IT workforce will become eligible to retire.

This fact helped push the passage of the Digital Tech Corps Act, which fosters worker exchange between the government and the high-tech industry. Although this bill is meant to help deal with the growing federal IT worker shortage, it won't be enough—even with increased spending on outsourcing. The government will need to hire aggressively between now and 2006. If you’re an out-of-work or looking-for-stability IT pro, this could be your ticket to a relatively secure new job.

The bottom line
What you probably think about government jobs is largely true: They pay less than private industry. An InformationWeek Research survey conducted last spring (after the feds substantially boosted IT pay to lure employees during the dot-com boom) showed that the median base salary for government IT staffers was still lagging: $56,000 compared with $60,000 for private-sector IT staff. Government IT managers earned a median base salary of $70,000, compared with $82,000 for private-sector IT managers.

Despite the salary differences, the longer the high-tech recession goes on, the more IT workers may consider accepting government jobs. After all, something is a lot better than nothing. But at least so far, a drastic shortage still exists. A Gartner study late last year found that despite government hopes that the dot-com implosion would encourage IT pros to apply for such jobs, there is still a dramatic shortfall of skilled IT workers at both the state and local government levels.

Of course, once the economy improves, the government will have an added incentive to boost federal IT salaries to retain valuable workers it gains in the current economy—at least we can hope so.

Your take
What do you think? Would you consider pursuing a federal job opportunity? If you accepted one, would you stick around—or wait for the next tech-industry hiring wave to jump ship? E-mail us or post to the discussion board below.

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