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)
Open
As of February 2021, we were waiting for the agency to provide an update on the status of its efforts to address the recommendation.
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
In August 2020, Education stated that it plans to start developing an IT workforce planning process in fiscal year 2020, and that it plans to reassess its competencies in fiscal year 2022. Further, officials stated that the agency had performed a competency gap assessment of all staff with cybersecurity responsibilities in March 2019, and developed strategies to address both competency and staffing gaps. However, the agency did not provide supporting documentation for these efforts. We will follow-up with the agency to obtain this documentation and continue to monitor the agency's efforts to implement the key IT workforce planning activities.
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
In December 2020, the Department of Energy reported actions it had taken to fully implement the activities to develop competency and staffing requirements and to report to agency leadership on progress in addressing competency and staffing gaps. However, the agency did not provide supporting documentation. In addition, the agency reported steps it had taken to implement the remaining six activities and expects to finalize their efforts by September 2021. As of February 2021, we were following up with the Department of Energy to obtain supporting documentation for the activities it claimed it had fully implemented. We will continue to monitor the agency's efforts to implement the 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
In April 2020, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reported several actions it had taken to address the recommendation. For example, it reported that it had developed an IT workforce planning strategy and planned to develop an action plan to ensure the strategy addresses all of the key IT workforce planning activities. In addition, the department reported that it had developed competency requirements for all four of the role-based groups of IT staff it had identified, and had assessed the groups for skills gaps. In addition, the department reported that to address gaps, it offered training programs. Further, DHS stated that it had developed an action plan to address identified gaps in work roles of critical need and submitted it to OPM in April 2019. Finally, the department reported that it established an Information Technology Workforce Planning Integrated Project Team that is intended to address the key IT workforce planning activities. However, DHS did not provide supporting documentation of the actions it claimed it had taken. As of February 2021, we were following up with the department to obtain this documentation as well as status updates for the activities.
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)
Open
We reported that HUD had fully implemented the IT workforce planning activity associated with developing competency and staffing requirements, substantially completed the activity associated with assessing gaps in competencies and staffing, and partially or minimally implemented the remaining six activities. In March 2021, the department reported on actions it had taken to fully implement all activities and stated that it planned to implement the them by September 30, 2021. For example, HUD stated that it was assessing its competency needs, and planned to do so annually. In addition, HUD stated that it was developing strategies and plans to address previously identified competency gaps. However, the department did not provide documentation to support its claims. In August 2021, we met with HUD officials to discuss this supporting documentation. We will review the documentation when we receive it and update the status of recommendations as appropriate.
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
As of February 2021, we were waiting for the department to provide an update on the status of its efforts to address the 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
In April 2020, the Department of Justice officials stated that the departments plans to develop and document an IT workforce planning process by the end of fiscal year 2020, and will establish and institutionalize the process in fiscal year 2021. In addition, the department indicated plans to develop competency requirements for data literacy and data skills, and to then assess for gaps, develop and implement plans, and report and monitor on the status in addressing the gaps. However, the department did not identify any plans for other IT workforce skills. We will continue to monitor the department's efforts to address the 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
In December 2019, the department of Labor provided evidence that it had developed strategies and plans to address gaps in staffing. In addition, Labor had taken steps to implement the strategies, and had monitored and reported on progress in implementing the strategies. However, the department did not provide evidence that it had monitored and reported on progress in closing the staffing gaps. Further, while Labor identified several competency gaps as part of a May 2018 workforce supply analysis, it did not provide documentation of its competency requirements. We will continue to monitor the department's efforts to address the 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
As of February 2021, we were waiting for the department to provide an update on the status of its efforts to address the recommendation.
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
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not provided documentation if its IT workforce planning process. The agency provided two action plans to address cybersecurity work roles of critical need that it had submitted to the Office of Personnel Management, specifically for its Information Systems Security Manager and IT Project Manager roles. While the plans include steps taken to address their critical needs, they do not address the agency's IT workforce planning process for implementing the key activities. Further, EPA reported that it planned to develop competency requirements and assess them for gaps by June 2020. However, as of February 2021, we had not received supporting documentation. We will continue to monitor the agency's efforts to address the 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)
Open
The National Science Foundation reported that it had taken steps to implement the key IT workforce planning activities. For example, the agency stated that in July 2019 it issued an IT strategic workforce planning report that identified the agency's planning process, competency and staffing gaps, and strategies to address them. However, the agency did not provide the planning report. Further, the agency stated that as part of its reform plan and Human Capital Operating Plan, the agency will assess competency needs regularly, assess gaps in competencies, develop strategies and plans to address gaps, and monitor and report on progress. The agency stated that it plans to complete its efforts in fiscal year 2021. We will follow up with the agency to obtain documentation of its reported actions, and we will continue to monitor the agency's efforts to address the recommendation.
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
Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials reported that the agency had taken steps to fully implement the key IT workforce planning activities. For example, officials stated that the agency had developed competency requirements for IT staff, and had assessed needs regularly through its strategic workforce planning process. While the agency provided documentation of its workforce action plan that identified several gaps, and strategies and plans to address them, it did not provide documentation of its competency requirements, or the assessment used to identify the gaps. As of February 2021, we were following up with the agency to obtain documentation of its reported actions, and we will continue to monitor the agency's efforts to address the 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 2021, the agency had not provided documentation of its competency requirements, and did not provide 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
In January 2021, Small Business Administration officials reported that the agency 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, the 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. As of February 2021, we were following up with the agency to obtain documentation of the reported actions. We will continue to monitor the agency's efforts to address the 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.
United States 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)
Open
In April 2020, the U.S. Agency for International Development finalized its IT workforce planning process that addressed how it intends to implement the key IT workforce planning activities on a regular basis. In addition, the agency developed competency requirements, and in April 2020, performed a competency gap assessment for most of its IT staff. Moreover, the agency identified strategies and plans for addressing the gaps, including training recommendations, and the development of individual training plans. Further, the agency took steps to implement these strategies and plans. However, the agency did not provide documentation of developed strategies and plans to address projected staffing gaps. With regard to the activities to monitor and report on progress, in January 2021, officials reported that the agency's workforce planning specialist is developing a monitoring plan to track the agency's progress in addressing gaps in competencies and staffing, and that the Office of the Chief Information Officer and the Office of Human Capital and Talent Management provide regular updates to agency leadership. However, the officials did not provide evidence that the monitoring and reporting included the status in closing competency and staffing gaps. We will continue to monitor the agency's efforts to address the recommendation.

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