USS ITanic?

There’s been hysteria about the grey tsunami since before I had grey hair. But, today seems Uncle Sam’s IT is really drowning in a digital-drop-out deluge. By all reports, Fed IT execs line up to jump overboard from the USS ITanic.

And, it’s not just grey beards – young IT leaders are pulling on life vests. Let’s consider those in the lifeboats – Simon Szykman, CIO, Commerce; Casey Coleman, CIO, GSA; Anil Karmel, deputy CTO at Energy NNSA; Anmy Torres, Deputy Division Chief, Cyber Acquisitions, Air National Guard; Major Linus Barloon, Chief of Cyber Operations at the White House – the list goes on… Let me know who I’m missing. It’ll be interesting to try to compile a full manifest.

Captain Cloud?
It’s difficult to single any exec out – but today’s the day Captain Cloud goes over the side at DHS. Yep, Keith Trippie, the innovation lead at DHS is putting in his last day at 7th and D St. SW. Keith’s been at DHS since ground zero. We’re all counting on Greg Capella and his shipmates to keep pulling on the innovation oars at ESDO.

But, let’s get beyond the anecdotal. We decided to scan the horizon on on March 3rd. Iceberg ahead. There are 2,559 open Fed “technology” jobs – 547 in a 50-mile sail of D.C. Of the total tech empty berths, only 1,256 are open to non govies – so 1,303 are only open to existing govies. Seventy percent of vacancies require mid-senior experience – GS11-15. The agencies with the biggest tech talent troubles – VA, DoD (HQ, Army, Air Force, Navy), HHS, and Interior. And, to rub salt in Uncle Sam’s wounds, there’s clearly a huge leadership vacuum – 124 SES vacancies.

Marie Celeste?

This isn’t the typical appointee ship jump linked to the end of an administration – we’re not two years into Obama II. And, many of those leaving are career govies in their prime. We’re witnessing a massive brain drain – agencies are dangerously short of IT innovation navigators.
And, let’s forget new ideas – and instead focus on keeping the lights on in IT. Without knowledge of where the bodies are buried, agencies may find themselves marooned with their legacy systems.

Why the Sea Change?

Well, it’s a perfect storm. A rudderless OMB. Uncle Sam’s innovation agenda’s all wet – data center consolidation and cloud transformations are mostly high and dry. The high-water mark on Federal pay hasn’t moved in four years – consider gas and real-estate inflation. Add in the lack of empowerment – CIOs watched Richard Spires, the alpha CIO, walk the plank. And to add insult to injury, consider the public floggings on and Snowden. The motto for Federal IT should read the beatings will continue until morale improves…

Truth is, our best and brightest Feds know the answers to Uncle Sam’s IT scurvy won’t come from inside. Here’s hoping those execs stay engaged in the community. That said, a complete mutiny’s not the answer – somebody needs to skipper the ship.

We need a new initiative to boost Fed IT morale. If we fail to recruit now, Uncle Sam’s IT infrastructure may capsize. Considering the OPM data, I’d recommend agencies open up jobs to non Feds – and lower their seniority expectations or boost compensation. Something’s got to give. FITARA’s a start – but we need to chart a new course to reach dry land.

Again, let us know of other Fed IT execs that have announced plans to jump ship. Let’s get a better sense for the problem so we can chart a tenable course forward.

Steve O'Keeffe
About Steve O'Keeffe
The most connected executive in the government technology community – O'Keeffe is an accomplished entrepreneur and tech-policy expert, with 30 years’ experience as an innovator at the crossroads of government and industry. He founded MeriTalk, O'Keeffe & Company, 300Brand, among other entities. O'Keeffe is a fixture on the Hill, in both the House and Senate, testifying on IT, budget, government workforce, and the requirement to modernize government IT to enhance outcomes for the American people and government employees. He is a champion for change, simplification, transparency, and clear communication of IT value without jargon. A committed philanthropist, O'Keeffe has served for 15 years on the USO-Metro Board of Directors – Vice Chairman of the Board and Chair of the Annual Awards Dinner. He started his career as a journalist – O'Keeffe has contributed to The Economist, Government Executive, Signal Magazine, The Washington Post, and, of course, MeriTalk.