Creation of a federal “digital academy” has potential to help address difficulties in recruiting and retaining employees in technology-related fields but the government also would have to tackle other issues underlying that problem, GAO has reported.
GAO was examining a recommendation from the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence that the government establish such an academy, similar to the military academies, to train people to take on civil service positions in fields such as artificial intelligence, data science, cybersecurity and robotics process automation.
In discussions with officials such as chief technology officers, chief data officers, chief information officers, GAO heard concerns about understaffing in those fields leading to backlogs and other problems with priorities such as updating legacy systems, managing security risks and improving service delivery.
However, officials said that for a digital academy to be effective, the government also would have to address needs to:
* modernize IT infrastructure first so that agencies would make the best use of the skills of those new employees.
* increase pay and to opportunities for training, development, and advancement to prevent those employees from leaving.
* speed up the hiring and onboarding processes, which “many digital service staff would likely not be willing to wait out . . . when the private sector can hire quickly and often with better pay.”
Officials also told GAO that without an explicit increase full-time equivalent position allocations “agencies’ capacity to absorb digital service academy graduates would be limited. Even with expanded budgets, agencies at or near their FTE caps would not be able to bring in new digitally-skilled staff and would instead need to rely on contractors for digital services work.