State Department: Additional Actions Needed to Address IT Workforce Challenges

GAO-22-105932 Published: Jul 12, 2022. Publicly Released: Jul 12, 2022.
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Fast Facts

A talented and skilled IT workforce is critical to efficient agency operations and protection against cyber threats. The State Department has implemented some workforce recruitment and retention best practices for its IT staff—including raising entry-level pay for experienced applicants and expanding incentive pay.

However, State doesn't have a plan to gauge whether these measures are working—such as establishing metrics and regularly assessing its current and future workforce needs.

Our 16 recommendations could help State improve the recruitment and retention of its IT workforce.

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Highlights

What GAO Found

Implementing leading workforce practices is essential to successfully recruiting and retaining IT staff. Of 15 recruitment and retention practices GAO evaluated, the Department of State (State) has fully implemented one, partially implemented 11, and not implemented three. For example, State has collected training performance data, but has not recruited continuously year-round for most of its IT positions or regularly assessed staffing needs. If State increases its focus on recruitment and retention practices, the department can better compete with other employers for critical IT staff with key skills and abilities.

GAO identified 10 challenges related to State recruiting and retaining its IT workforce. GAO did not include three challenges in this report due to State's sensitivity concerns. The recruitment and retention challenges in State's IT workforce included a narrow marketing and recruiting focus, low pay and a limited number of incentives and promotions, a lengthy hiring and clearance process, and inaccurate position descriptions and insufficiently detailed announcements (see figure). For example, IT staff said State's marketing and recruitment strategies focused on reaching a small portion of the population. Further, IT staff noted the general public did not have an awareness of State's mission and the IT employment opportunities that were available.

IT Workforce Recruitment and Retention Challenges at the Department of State

Note: GAO did not include three challenges in this report due to State's sensitivity concerns.

State has acted to overcome some of these challenges, including raising entry-level pay for experienced IT applicants and expanding its incentive pay program. State's policy calls for access to timely and accurate data to set performance metrics and for a plan to monitor and evaluate progress toward achieving goals. However, State does not have such IT workforce data needed to set performance metrics, nor does it have a plan to monitor and evaluate progress toward achieving its goals. Consequently, State does not know if its actions are improving its recruitment and retention, and achieving its goals.

Why GAO Did This Study

State depends on information systems to support its mission to advance the interests of the American people in foreign policy. State in turn relies on its IT personnel to maintain and protect these information systems.

GAO was asked to review State's IT workforce. This report examines to what extent State has (1) implemented recruitment and retention processes that are consistent with applicable leading practices, and (2) identified IT workforce recruitment and retention challenges and evaluated the effectiveness of its actions to address these challenges.

GAO analyzed recruitment and retention processes and leading practices, and documentation on IT workforce challenges and actions taken by State. GAO also interviewed officials at State headquarters and six overseas posts, which it selected based on factors such as the number of IT staff.

This is a public version of a sensitive report that was distributed on a limited basis. In response to State officials' request, GAO excluded from this public report (1) its evaluation of IT workforce vacancies and the impact of such vacancies, and (2) selected recruiting and retention challenges.

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Recommendations

GAO is making 16 recommendations to improve State's IT workforce management. State concurred with 15 but did not concur with one on expanding the number of Foreign Service IT positions available to external applicants year-round. As discussed in the report, GAO believes the recommendation is still warranted.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of State The Secretary of State should direct the Under Secretary for Management to ensure that the IT workforce planning processes and documents in development are completed and updated regularly for the Civil Service. (Recommendation 1)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of State The Secretary of State should direct the Under Secretary for Management to ensure that the IT workforce planning processes and documents in development are completed and updated regularly for the Foreign Service. (Recommendation 2)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of State The Secretary of State should direct the Under Secretary for Management to update State's domestic competency and staffing monitoring tools and incorporate the results of these tools in updated workforce planning documents. (Recommendation 3)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of State The Secretary of State should direct the Under Secretary for Management to update State's overseas competency and staffing monitoring tools, incorporating the results of these tools in updated workforce planning documents. (Recommendation 4)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of State The Secretary of State should direct the Under Secretary for Management to develop a plan, including performance indicators, baselines, milestones, and targets, to monitor the progress of the department's IT recruitment programs and processes. (Recommendation 5)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of State The Secretary of State should direct the Under Secretary for Management to ensure that relevant data related to IT recruitment activities are accurate and available to facilitate decision-making and enable the department to monitor and evaluate its performance in meeting its IT human capital goals. (Recommendation 6)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of State The Secretary of State should direct the Under Secretary for Management to consider expanding the number of Foreign Service IT positions that are available to external applicants year-round. (Recommendation 7)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of State The Secretary of State should direct the Under Secretary for Management to consider expanding the number of Civil Service IT positions that are available to external applicants year-round. (Recommendation 8)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of State The Secretary of State should direct the Under Secretary for Management to create and document a strategy for using hiring flexibilities and recruitment incentives for IT recruiting. (Recommendation 9)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of State The Secretary of State should direct the Under Secretary for Management to develop a plan, including performance indicators, baselines, milestones, and targets, to monitor the progress of the department's IT retention programs and processes. (Recommendation 10)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of State The Secretary of State should direct the Under Secretary for Management to ensure that relevant data related to IT retention activities are accurate and available to facilitate decision-making and enable the department to monitor and evaluate its performance in meeting its IT human capital goals. (Recommendation 11)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of State The Secretary of State should direct the Under Secretary for Management to obtain and track data related to employee morale issues for IT professionals in order to evaluate State's progress toward meeting its human capital goals. (Recommendation 12)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of State The Secretary of State should direct the Under Secretary for Management to create and document a strategy on implementing meaningful rewards programs and on providing incentives to motivate and reinforce expected levels of performance and desired conduct in the IT workforce. (Recommendation 13)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of State The Secretary of State should direct the Under Secretary for Management to create and document a strategy to develop a tailored approach to the use of available flexibilities, benefits, and incentives and tailoring benefits to current IT employees' needs for retention. (Recommendation 14)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of State The Secretary of State should direct the Under Secretary for Management to obtain and track data on aligning Foreign Service IT employee performance expectations with agency goals to facilitate decision-making and enable the department to monitor and evaluate its performance in meeting its IT human capital goals. (Recommendation 15)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of State The Secretary of State should direct the Under Secretary for Management to obtain and track data on aligning Civil Service IT employee performance expectations with agency goals to facilitate decision-making and enable the department to monitor and evaluate its performance in meeting its IT human capital goals. (Recommendation 16)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

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