IT Workforce:

Key Practices Help Ensure Strong Integrated Program Teams; Selected Departments Need to Assess Skill Gaps

GAO-17-8: Published: Nov 30, 2016. Publicly Released: Nov 30, 2016.

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What GAO Found

Integrated program teams (IPT) are cross-functional or multidisciplinary groups of individuals that are organized and collectively responsible for delivering a product to an external or internal customer. GAO identified three characteristics that contribute to the creation and operation of a comprehensive IPT: (1) executive leadership through team support, empowerment, and oversight; (2) team composition; and (3) processes for team operations. GAO also identified 18 practices supporting these three characteristics (see figure). For example, executive leadership is effective when sufficient resources are provided and teams are empowered to act, team composition is more robust when the IPT has cross-functional and multidisciplinary skill sets, and team operations are streamlined when team guidelines are established and stakeholders are involved as active members. When implemented, these practices can increase the IPT's likelihood of success by having the right mix of expertise to recognize problems early and by having the requisite authority to do something about them.

Figure: Key Characteristics and Practices of Comprehensive Integrated Program Teams (IPT) for Major Information Technology Acquisitions

Figure: Key Characteristics and Practices of Comprehensive Integrated Program Teams (IPT) for Major Information Technology Acquisitions

While multiple factors contribute to a robust IPT, one aspect involves having a strong information technology (IT) workforce. To evaluate agencies' IT workforce planning efforts, GAO identified eight key workforce planning steps and activities based on relevant laws and guidance (see table).

Table: Summary of Key Information Technology (IT) Workforce Planning Steps and Activities

Set the strategic direction for IT workforce planning

Activity 1: Establish and maintain a workforce planning process

Activity 2: Develop competency and staffing requirements

Analyze the IT workforce to identify skill gaps

Activity 3: Assess competency and staffing needs regularly

Activity 4: Assess gaps in competencies and staffing

Develop strategies and implement activities to address IT skill gaps

Activity 5: Develop strategies and plans to address gaps in competencies and staffing

Activity 6: Implement activities that address gaps (including IT acquisition cadres, crossfunctional training of acquisition and program personnel, career paths for program managers, plans to strengthen program management, and use of special hiring authorities)

Monitor and report progress in addressing IT skill gaps

Activity 7: Monitor the agency's progress in addressing competency and staffing gaps

Activity 8: Report to agency leadership on progress in addressing competency and staffing gaps

Source: GAO analysis of relevant laws and guidance. | GAO-17-8

Five federal departments had mixed progress in assessing their IT skill gaps. While all five departments had demonstrated important progress in either partially or fully implementing key IT workforce planning activities, each had shortfalls. For example, four departments had not demonstrated an established IT workforce planning process.

Figure: Selected Departments' Implementation of Eight Key Information Technology Workforce Planning Activities

Figure: Key Characteristics and Practices of Comprehensive Integrated Program Teams (IPT) for Major Information Technology Acquisitions

As shown in the figure, of the five departments, the Department of Defense had the most robust IT workforce planning process by fully or partially implementing all eight activities. However, the departments have not yet fully implemented all of the practices for various reasons. For example, policies were not comprehensive in requiring such activities or were not being applied to IT workforce planning at four departments, one department placed a greater emphasis on assessing its cybersecurity workforce, and two departments identified the need to perform more granular assessments of the workforce in order to identify skill gaps. Until the departments fully implement key workforce planning steps and activities, they risk not adequately assessing and addressing gaps in knowledge and skills that are critical to the success of major acquisitions.

Why GAO Did This Study

In fiscal year 2017, the federal government is expected to spend more than $89 billion on IT. In many instances, agencies have not consistently applied best practices that are critical to successfully acquiring IT investments, such as ensuring program staff have the necessary knowledge and skills. In an effort to aid agencies in successfully delivering projects, the Office of Management and Budget has called for the development and use of IPTs for federal IT acquisitions to ensure that projects consist of the appropriate mix of individuals. GAO was asked to review IPTs for federal IT acquisitions and the federal government's IT workforce planning.

GAO's objectives were to (1) identify key characteristics of comprehensive IPTs responsible for managing major federal IT acquisitions, and (2) evaluate whether selected federal agencies are adequately assessing and addressing gaps in knowledge and skills that are critical to the success of major IT acquisitions. To do so, GAO reviewed relevant literature; interviewed IPT experts; and evaluated IT workforce efforts at five departments: Commerce, Defense, Health and Human Services, Transportation, and the Treasury.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that selected departments implement IT workforce planning practices to facilitate more rigorous analyses of gaps between current skills and future needs, and the development of strategies for filling the gaps. Four departments agreed and one, Defense, partially agreed with our recommendations.

For more information, contact David Powner, 202-512-9286, pownerd@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Priority recommendation

    Comments: The department has not yet provided its written response to this recommendation. We will continue to monitor the department's progress in implementing the recommendation.

    Recommendation: To facilitate the analysis of gaps between current skills and future needs, the development of strategies for filling the gaps, and succession planning, the Secretary of Commerce should require the Chief Information Officer, Chief Human Capital Officer, and other senior managers as appropriate to address the shortfalls in IT workforce planning noted in this report, including the following actions: (1) establish and maintain a workforce planning process; (2) develop competency and staffing requirements; (3) assess competency and staffing needs regularly; (4) assess gaps in competencies for all components of the workforce; (5) develop strategies and plans to address gaps in competencies and staffing; (6) implement activities that address gaps, including an IT acquisition cadre, cross-functional training of acquisition and program personnel, a career path for program managers, and special hiring authorities, if justified and cost-effective; (7) monitor the department's progress in addressing IT competency and staffing gaps; and (8) report to department leadership on progress in addressing competency and staffing gaps.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: The department has provided a written response to this recommendation and we are currently evaluating it.

    Recommendation: To facilitate the analysis of gaps between current skills and future needs, the development of strategies for filling the gaps, and succession planning, the Secretary of Defense should require the Chief Information Officer, the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, and other senior managers as appropriate to address the shortfalls in IT workforce planning noted in this report, including the following actions: (1) develop competencies for all staff; (2) assess competency needs regularly for all positions; (3) assess gaps in competencies for all components of the workforce; (4) develop strategies and plans to address gaps in competencies; (5) implement activities that address gaps, including developing a program management career path, if justified and cost-effective; (6) monitor the department's progress in addressing competency gaps identified for IT staff; and (7) report to department leadership on progress in addressing competency gaps.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: The department has provided a written response to this recommendation and we are currently evaluating it.

    Recommendation: To facilitate the analysis of gaps between current skills and future needs, the development of strategies for filling the gaps, and succession planning, the Secretary of Health and Human Services should require the Chief Information Officer, Chief Human Capital Officer, and other senior managers as appropriate to address the shortfalls in IT workforce planning noted in this report, including the following actions: (1) establish and maintain a workforce planning process inclusive of all staff; (2) develop staffing requirements for all positions; (3) assess staffing needs regularly; (4) assess gaps in competencies and staffing for all components of the workforce; (5) develop strategies and plans to address gaps in competencies and staffing; (6) implement activities that address gaps, including an IT acquisition cadre, if justified and cost-effective; (7) monitor the department's progress in addressing competency and staffing gaps; and (8) report to department leadership on progress in addressing competency and staffing gaps.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  4. Status: Open

    Priority recommendation

    Comments: The department agreed with the recommendation and stated that it plans to fully implement the recommendation by December 2019. To fully implement this recommendation, DOT should prioritize the completion of its IT workforce planning process and then begin implementing the process in phases based on the availability of resources.

    Recommendation: To facilitate the analysis of gaps between current skills and future needs, the development of strategies for filling the gaps, and succession planning, the Secretary of Transportation should require the Chief Information Officer, Chief Human Capital Officer, and other senior managers as appropriate to address the shortfalls in IT workforce planning noted in this report, including the following actions: (1) establish a time frame for when the department is to finalize its draft workforce planning process and maintain that process; (2) develop staffing requirements for all positions; (3) assess competency and staffing needs regularly for all positions; (4) assess gaps in staffing for all components of the workforce; (5) develop strategies and plans to address gaps in competencies and staffing; (6) implement activities that address gaps, including an IT acquisition cadre, cross-functional training of acquisition and program personnel, a career path for program managers, and use of special hiring authorities, if justified and cost-effective;e (7) monitor the department's progress in addressing competency and staffing gaps; and (8) report to department leadership on progress in addressing competency and staffing gaps.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  5. Status: Open

    Comments: The department has not yet provided its written response to this recommendation. We will continue to monitor the department's progress in implementing the recommendation.

    Recommendation: To facilitate the analysis of gaps between current skills and future needs, the development of strategies for filling the gaps, and succession planning, the Secretary of the Treasury should require the Chief Information Officer, Chief Human Capital Officer, and other senior managers as appropriate to address the shortfalls in IT workforce planning noted in this report, including the following actions: (1) establish and maintain a workforce planning process; (2) develop competency and staffing requirements for all positions; (3) assess competency and staffing needs regularly; (4) assess gaps in competencies and staffing for all components of the workforce; (5) develop strategies and plans to address gaps in competencies and staffing for all components of the workforce; (6) implement activities that address gaps, including a career path for program managers and special hiring authorities, if justified and cost-effective; (7) monitor the department's progress in addressing competency and staffing gaps; and (8) report to department leadership on progress in addressing competency and staffing gaps for all components of the workforce.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury

 

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