Information Technology: Agencies Need to Fully Implement Key Workforce Planning Activities

GAO-20-129 Published: Oct 30, 2019. Publicly Released: Oct 30, 2019.
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Fast Facts

Identifying skill gaps and staffing needs is key to addressing the federal government’s IT workforce challenges.

We evaluated how major executive agencies implemented the 8 IT workforce planning practices in our framework, like recognizing key skills employees will need and planning for them.

Agencies made the most progress with 3 practices, including assessing gaps in skills and staffing.

We recommended that three-quarters of the agencies fully implement the practices to anticipate and respond to changing staffing needs and to control risks with critical IT systems. We made the same recommendation to the remaining agencies in 2016 and 2018.

Federal agencies need to identify skill gaps within their workforce to anticipate and respond to changing needs and critical risks.

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Highlights

What GAO Found

Federal agencies varied widely in their efforts to implement key information technology (IT) workforce planning activities that are critical to ensuring that agencies have the staff they need to support their missions. Specifically, at least 23 of the 24 agencies GAO reviewed partially implemented, substantially implemented, or fully implemented three activities, including assessing gaps in competencies and staffing. However, most agencies minimally implemented or did not implement five other workforce planning activities (see figure).

Agencies’ Overall Implementation of the Key Information Technology (IT) Workforce Planning Activities

Agencies provided various reasons for their limited progress in implementing workforce planning activities, including competing priorities (six agencies), and limited resources (three agencies). Until agencies make it a priority to fully implement all key IT workforce planning activities, they will likely have difficulty anticipating and responding to changing staffing needs and controlling human capital risks when developing, implementing, and operating critical IT systems.

Why GAO Did This Study

The federal government annually spends over $90 billion on IT. Despite this large investment, projects too frequently fail or incur cost overruns and schedule slippages while contributing little to mission-related outcomes. Effectively implementing workforce planning activities can facilitate the success of major acquisitions.

GAO was asked to conduct a government-wide review of IT workforce planning. The objective was to determine the extent to which federal agencies effectively implemented IT workforce planning practices. To do so, GAO compared IT workforce policies and related documentation from each of the 24 Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990 agencies to activities from an IT workforce planning framework GAO issued. GAO rated each agency as having fully, substantially, partially, minimally, or not implemented for each activity. GAO supplemented its reviews of agency documentation by interviewing agency officials.

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Recommendations

GAO is making recommendations to 18 of the 24 federal agencies to fully implement the eight key IT workforce planning activities. Of the 18 agencies, 13 agreed with the recommendations, one partially agreed, three neither agreed nor disagreed, and one disagreed with the findings and provided evidence which led to a modification to its recommendation, as discussed in this report. For all of the remaining recommendations, GAO continues to believe that they are all warranted.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Agriculture The Secretary of Agriculture should ensure that the agency fully implements each of the eight key IT workforce planning activities it did not fully implement. (Recommendation 1)
Closed – Implemented
We reported that Agriculture had not fully implemented the eight key IT workforce planning activities. As of April 2022, Agriculture provided evidence that it had fully implemented them For example, in March 2022, the agency provided documentation showing that it had completed competency requirements for most of its IT workforce. In addition, Agriculture provided evidence that it had assessed competency gaps for its IT work roles, and had developed strategies and plans to address identified gaps. Moreover, in April 2022, the agency demonstrated that it had taken steps to implement the strategies and plans, and had monitored and reported on progress in addressing the gaps. As a result of its actions, Agriculture has improved its capability to anticipate and respond to changing staffing needs and to control human capital risks when developing, implementing, and operating critical IT systems.
Department of Education The Secretary of Education should ensure that the agency fully implements each of the seven key IT workforce planning activities it did not fully implement. (Recommendation 2)
Open
The Department of Education reported several actions it had taken to implement the seven key IT workforce planning activities that we reported it did not fully implement. However, Education has not provided documentation. Specifically, Education stated that it had developed an IT workforce planning process in October 2020. Further, the agency stated that it had assessed competency needs in fiscal year 2018 and fiscal year 2019. Moreover, the agency reported that in March 2019 it had had performed a competency gap assessment of all staff with cybersecurity responsibilities, and developed strategies to address both competency and staffing gaps. However, as of April 2022, the agency had not provided supporting documentation for these efforts. We will follow up with the agency to obtain documentation of their reported efforts, and we will continue to monitor the agency's efforts to address our recommendation.
Department of Energy The Secretary of Energy should ensure that the agency fully implements each of the eight key IT workforce planning activities it did not fully implement. (Recommendation 3)
Open – Partially Addressed
As of December 2021, the Department of Energy had fully implemented the activities to establish and maintain a workforce planning process. In addition, the agency had taken steps to assess gaps in competencies and staffing, develop strategies and plans to address gaps, implement activities that address gaps, and to monitor and report on progress in addressing gaps. However, the agency had not provided documentation of established competency requirements for most of its IT staff. In February 2022, the agency reported that it had defined core technical competencies and proficiency levels for the agency's competency-gapped work roles of critical need, but as of March 2022 we had not received documentation. We will follow up with the agency to obtain documentation of the established competency requirements, and we will continue to monitor the agency's efforts to address our recommendation.
Department of Homeland Security The Secretary of Homeland Security should ensure that the agency fully implements each of the eight key IT workforce planning activities it did not fully implement. (Recommendation 4)
Open – Partially Addressed
As of December 2021, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has fully implemented five of the eight key IT workforce planning activities that we reported it did not fully implement. Specifically, DHS has fully implemented the activities to develop competency and staffing requirements, assess gaps in competencies and staffing, develop strategies and plans to address gaps in competencies and staffing, implement activities that address gaps, and monitor the agency's progress in addressing competency and staffing gaps. DHS has not yet fully implemented the activities to establish and maintain a workforce planning process, assess competency and staffing needs regularly, and report to agency leadership on progress in addressing competency and staffing gaps. In March 2021, the department reported that it leverages the agency's strategic documents for its IT workforce planning process, including the agency's IT strategic plan, and Human Capital Operating Plan. However, these documents did not include a workforce planning process that addresses the other key IT workforce planning activities. We will continue to monitor DHS's efforts to address our recommendation.
Department of Housing and Urban Development The Secretary of Housing and Urban Development should ensure that the agency fully implements each of the seven key IT workforce planning activities it did not fully implement. (Recommendation 5)
Closed – Implemented
As of April 2022, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has fully implemented the seven key IT workforce planning activities that we reported it did not fully implement. Specifically, HUD has fully implemented the activities to establish and maintain a workforce planning process, assess competency and staffing needs regularly, assess gaps in competencies and staffing, develop and implement strategies and plans to address gaps in competencies and staffing, and to monitor and report on the agency's progress in addressing gaps. For example, in April 2022, HUD provided its updated IT workforce plan, which addressed all key IT workforce planning activities. As a result of its actions, HUD has improved its capability to anticipate and respond to changing staffing needs and to mitigate human capital risks when developing, implementing, and operating critical IT systems.
Department of the Interior The Secretary of the Interior should ensure that the agency fully implements each of the eight key IT workforce planning activities it did not fully implement. (Recommendation 6)
Open – Partially Addressed
As of March 2022, the Department of Interior has fully implemented four of the eight key IT workforce planning activities that we reported it did not fully implement. Specifically, Interior has fully implemented the activities to establish and maintain a workforce planning process, develop competency and staffing requirements, assess competency and staffing needs regularly, and assess gaps in competencies and staffing. While Interior has taken steps to implement the remaining activities, it has not yet fully implemented them. Specifically, the agency has not fully implemented the activities to develop strategies and plans to address gaps in competencies and staffing, implement activities that address gaps, and to monitor and report on the agency's progress in addressing competency and staffing gaps. The agency stated that it plans to fully implement the activities by December 2022. We will continue to monitor Interior's efforts to address our recommendation.
Department of Justice The Attorney General should ensure that the agency fully implements each of the eight key IT workforce planning activities it did not fully implement. (Recommendation 7)
Open
The Department of Justice (DOJ) reported several actions it had taken to implement the eight key IT workforce planning activities that we reported it did not fully implement. However, DOJ has not yet fully implemented them. Specifically, in April 2022, DOJ reported that it planned to issue an IT workforce policy memo in the third quarter of fiscal year 2022. Further, DOJ stated that it planned to implement the activities to develop competency and staffing requirements, assess competency and staffing needs regularly, assess gaps in competencies and staffing, and develop strategies and plans to address gaps in competencies and staffing by the end of fiscal year 2022. DOJ stated that it planned to implement the remaining activities by the end of fiscal year 2023. We will continue to monitor DOJ's efforts to address our recommendation.
Department of Labor The Secretary of Labor should ensure that the agency fully implements each of the eight key IT workforce planning activities it did not fully implement. (Recommendation 8)
Open – Partially Addressed
As of March 2022, Labor has taken steps to implement each of the eight key IT workforce planning activities, but has not yet fully addressed them. Specifically, Labor identified several competency gaps as part of a May 2018 workforce supply analysis; however, it did not provide documentation of its competency requirements, or of its strategies and plans to address the gaps. In addition, in December 2019, the department of Labor provided evidence that it had developed strategies and plans to address gaps in staffing, had taken steps to implement the strategies, and had monitored and reported on progress in implementing the strategies. More recently, in June 2021, Labor stated that it established an IT Workforce Planning Guide. However, the agency did not provide documentation. We will continue to monitor the department's efforts to address our recommendation.
Department of State The Secretary of State should ensure that the agency fully implements each of the seven key IT workforce planning activities it did not fully implement. (Recommendation 9)
Open
GAO has an ongoing review of the Department of State's IT workforce which addresses actions the agency has taken to implement each of the seven key IT workforce planning activities it did not fully implement. We plan to update the status of this recommendation after the issuance of the report.
Department of Veterans Affairs The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should ensure that the agency fully implements each of the five key IT workforce planning activities it did not fully implement. (Recommendation 10)
Closed – Implemented
We reported that VA had fully implemented three IT workforce planning activities-developing competency and staffing requirements, assessing competency and staffing needs regularly, and assessing gaps in competencies and staffing. As of August 2021, VA provided documentation demonstrating that it had fully implemented the remaining five activities. For example, regarding the activity to establish and maintain a workforce planning process, in August 2021, the agency provided its Human Capital Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2021 through Fiscal Year 2024. The document addressed how the agency planned to implement the workforce activities, including those that we reported VA had not fully implemented, such as the development of plans to address identified gaps, and reporting to agency leadership on progress in addressing gaps. In addition, regarding the four activities relating to staffing gaps-developing strategies and plans to address gaps, implementing activities to address gaps, monitoring the agency's progress in addressing gaps, and reporting to agency leadership on progress in addressing gaps- VA provided documentation demonstrating that it did not have any projected staffing gaps based on its budget allocation. However, VA identified projected staffing requirements through fiscal year 2026, and used them as a basis to request additional funding. As a result of its actions, VA has improved its capability to anticipate and respond to changing staffing needs and to control human capital risks when developing, implementing, and operating critical IT systems.
Environmental Protection Agency The Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency should ensure that the agency fully implements each of the eight key IT workforce planning activities it did not fully implement. (Recommendation 11)
Open – Partially Addressed
As of March 2022, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had taken actions to fully implement seven of the eight IT workforce planning activities that we reported it did not fully implement. Specifically, in October 2021, the agency provided documentation of competency requirements for work roles of critical need and additional documentation showing that it had assessed competency and staffing gaps. In addition, the agency developed strategies and plans to address the gaps, took steps to implement the strategies and plans, and monitored and reported on its implementation progress to agency leadership. However, the agency had not yet implemented the activity to establish and maintain a workforce planning process. According to the agency, its Office of Human Resources is conducting enterprise-wide workforce planning pilot programs, which will include the IT workforce. The agency stated that plans for the programs will completed by September 2022. We will continue to monitor EPA's efforts to address our recommendation.
General Services Administration The Administrator of the General Services Administration should ensure that the agency fully implements each of the seven key IT workforce planning activities it did not fully implement. (Recommendation 12)
Closed – Implemented
GSA took actions to implement the recommendation. Specifically, in January 2020, GSA established an IT workforce plan that addressed the key IT workforce planning activities. In addition, in November 2020, the agency provided documentation of its updated competency requirements. Further, in its 2019 and 2020 reports to the Office of Personnel Management on Work Roles of Critical Need, GSA identified competency and staffing gaps, and strategies and plans to address them. Finally, GSA monitored and reported on progress in implementing the plans. As a result of its actions, GSA has improved its capability to anticipate and respond to changing staffing needs and to control human capital risks when developing, implementing, and operating critical IT systems.
National Science Foundation The Director of the National Science Foundation should ensure that the agency fully implements each of the eight key IT workforce planning activities it did not fully implement. (Recommendation 13)
Closed – Implemented
We reported that the National Science Foundation (NSF) had not fully implement the eight key IT workforce planning activities. As of May 2022, the agency provided evidence that it had fully implemented the eight activities. For example, in March 2021, the agency provided evidence that it had developed an IT workforce planning process, competency requirements for most of its IT workforce, performed a gap assessment, and developed strategies and plans to address the gaps. Further, in May 2022, NSF provided evidence that it had taken steps to implement strategies and plans to address gaps, and had monitored and reported on progress. As a result of its actions, NSF has improved its capability to anticipate and respond to changing staffing needs and to control human capital risks when developing, implementing, and operating critical IT systems
Nuclear Regulatory Commission The Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission should ensure that the agency fully implements each of the seven key IT workforce planning activities it did not fully implement. (Recommendation 14)
Open – Partially Addressed
As of March 2022, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has taken steps to implement each of the seven key IT workforce planning activities, but has not yet fully addressed them. Specifically, NRC has identified certain competency gaps, and has developed and taken steps to implement strategies and plans to address them. In addition, NRC has monitored and reported on progress in addressing the gaps. However, NRC has not yet fully established its competency requirements for its IT staff. In March 2022, NRC reported that the agency plans to finish establishing the requirements by the end of fiscal year 2022. We will continue to monitor the agency's efforts to address our recommendation.
Office of Personnel Management
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
The Director of the Office of Personnel Management should ensure that the agency fully implements each of the eight key IT workforce planning activities it did not fully implement. (Recommendation 15)
Open
OPM agreed with this recommendation. In May 2020, OPM reported that the agency's Chief Information Officer and Human Resources office developed competency and staffing requirements for its IT staff based on findings from a workforce assessment. Further, in March 2021, OPM reported that it had hired a Human Capital Strategist to develop an IT strategic workforce plan. However, as of March 2022, the agency had not provided documentation of its competency requirements, and had not provided a timeframe for completion of the workforce plan. To fully implement this recommendation, OPM needs to develop and implement a workforce planning process that addresses each of the eight key IT workforce planning activities.
Small Business Administration The Administrator of the Small Business Administration should ensure that the agency fully implements each of the seven key IT workforce planning activities it did not fully implement. (Recommendation 16)
Open
The Small Business Administration has reported progress in addressing the seven key IT workforce planning activities, but it has not yet fully implemented them. Specifically, in January 2021, the agency reported that it had taken steps to assess its competency needs and requirements, and had developed a career path for program managers. However, the agency did not provide supporting documentation. In addition, officials reported plans to address the other activities. For example, the officials stated that they plan to finalize the agency's updated IT workforce planning process and its assessment of gaps in competencies by the end of March 2021. However, as of March 2022, we have not received an update on these efforts. We plan to follow up with the agency to obtain documentation of the reported actions, and we will continue to monitor the agency's efforts to address our recommendation.
Social Security Administration The Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should ensure that the agency fully implements each of the five key IT workforce planning activities it did not fully implement. (Recommendation 17)
Closed – Implemented
We reported that SSA had fully implemented the IT workforce planning activities associated with developing competency and staffing requirements, assessing competency and staffing needs regularly, and assessing gaps in competencies and staffing. As of April 2021, the agency had taken several actions to fully implement the remaining five activities. For example, the agency issued its IT Workforce Strategy for Fiscal Years 2019 through Fiscal Year 2022, which replaced the agency's previous workforce planning process. The strategy included areas not previously addressed, such as how the agency intended to report to agency leadership on progress in addressing gaps, and how the agency would perform the workforce planning activities on an ongoing basis. In addition, SSA developed strategies and plans to address gaps as part of its July 2020 Recruitment Hiring Strategic Plan and its September 2020 Work Roles of Critical Need report to the Office of Personnel Management. SSA also took steps to implement the strategies and plans, and monitored and reported on its implementation progress to agency leadership. As a result of its actions, SSA has improved its capability to anticipate and respond to changing staffing needs and to control human capital risks when developing, implementing, and operating critical IT systems.
U.S. Agency for International Development The Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development should ensure that the agency fully implements each of the seven key IT workforce planning activities it did not fully implement. (Recommendation 18)
Closed – Implemented
We reported that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) had fully implemented the activity to develop competency and staffing requirements. As of February 2022, USAID had taken several actions to fully implement the seven key IT workforce planning activities that we reported it did not fully implement. For example, in April 2020, USAID issued its IT Workforce Planning Playbook that documented the agency's workforce planning process. Further, USAID developed a IT workforce competency gap assessment report that identified gaps, and training recommendations for the highest priority gaps. Moreover, between January and February 2022, the agency provided evidence of actions it had taken to address staffing gaps, monitor progress in addressing competency and staffing gaps, and report to agency leadership on progress in addressing the gaps . As a result of its actions, USAID has improved its capability to anticipate and respond to changing staffing needs and to control human capital risks when developing, implementing, and operating critical IT systems.

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