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The federal government has an underutilized program that, if used properly, could help to stimulate the technology sector of the economy.
The program is the Information Technology Exchange Program. Authorized by the eGov Act of 2002 the program is intended to send the highest caliber federal employees (GS-11 and higher) to the private sector for details ranging from three to 12 months. The company will send a similar employee to the government to work and gain insight into how the government operates from the inside. The company continues to pay the salary and benefits of the individual they sent to the government and the government continues to pay the salary and benefits for the fed working in the industry. This is a win-win situation for the government and the company, as well as the employees who have been exchanged. Everyone gains knowledge and experience from exposure to the other side.
Approaching the program in the traditional sense does not really offer any real stimulus. However the program can also operate in a one-way exchange. For example, a federal employee can work for a company for up to a year, with the possibility of extending for up to an additional year. The company is not required to send an employee to the government to make an even exchange. When looking at the program from this angle it is easy to see how it could be construed as having a stimulative affect. The company receives a highly skilled worker and the government picks up the tab.
The government still stands to receive a benefit in this example because the returning employee will likely have a broadened skill set and specialized experience that can be applied immediately. The employee will be better equipped to play a critical role in evolving situations and have contacts that will help to foster public-private partnerships in the future.
There are many opportunities in which this type of partnership could succeed today. For example, could someone in IT Security benefit from the type of experience working in security at AOL? Could a good database administrator (DBA) apply skills and learn something from Marriott International? Could we learn about the supply chain and radio-frequency identification (RFID) from Wal-Mart? And don’t get me started on Google.
The types of opportunities are as unique as the people who seek them. For me, I love to develop grants management systems. (It’s what I do.) But I bet that there could even be something for me out there. In fact, I bet the Gates Foundation has a pretty good grants management system operating behind the scenes. I could help to further develop it, learn from people who look at the space differently, and apply what I’ve learned when I come back to the government. While doing this I would be helping the Gates Foundation, myself, and my agency.
Beware; there is a potential dark side to this program as well. A shady company could abuse this program by releasing a number of employees and then try to backfill them with federal employees. As such the only way this program could work is if any company that participates agrees that it will not layoff, or release anyone (because of the economy) prior to or during the time when a guest worker is with them. This actually provides an incentive to slow the unemployment trend.
Additionally, federal workers would have to be careful, especially if they are involved with any acquisitions or procurement. Those workers should be required to disclose the organization that hosted them and they would be required to recuse themselves from any panels reviewing proposals from that organization.
Obviously if the employee works at a company for a year and does not return to his or her agency, the employee will be required to repay the costs the government incurred during the detail. Failure to reimburse the government may result in penalties against the employee. But this program isn’t intended for people who are likely to leave the government. It is for people who know that other people are dealing with the same challenges we feds face, and the act of walking in someone else’s shoes for a while may hold the key to solving them.
About the Author
Tim McCrosson has been a Project Manager at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) since September 2007. As a founding member of the FNS Project Management Office (PMO) he focuses on development projects to support the Special Nutrition Programs like Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and School Lunch Programs.