The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently issued a report on strengthening the Federal science and technology (S&T) workforce to compete for talent with the private sector and address factors affecting the Federal work environment, and found that the government has been slow in some cases to implement GAO’s previous recommendations that would help boost the S&T workforce.

The report, which is part of GAO testimony before the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, discusses how “critical skill gaps are undermining the ability of Federal agencies to carry out their missions.”

It focuses on GAO’s prior work, including: workforce planning to ensure agencies can implement missions; opportunities and challenges to recruiting a diverse and highly-qualified S&T workforce; and factors impacting the Federal work environment.

In its report, GAO said that agencies need to identify current skill gaps, future needs of the workforce, and choose the right human capital strategies to address them.

Prior work found challenges in S&T workforce strategic planning that have not been fully addressed. In October 2019, GAO evaluated cybersecurity workforce planning strategies for IT workforce implementation at 24 major agencies, but found that most agencies had not fully implemented five of eight key workforce activities that GAO identified due to competing priorities and limited resources.

“GAO recommended that the 18 agencies fully implement the eight key IT workforce planning activities,” said the report. “Thirteen agencies agreed with the recommendation, while the other five expressed a range of views; however, while some agencies have made progress, none have fully implemented the recommendation.”

On recruiting a diverse and qualified workforce, GAO made six prior recommendations to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) based on reports from 2016 and 2017. The recommendations covered  assessing and improving the use of pay and hiring authorities. OPM had “generally agreed” with the recommendations, but has so far only implemented two of the six, with the other four not fully implemented.

On addressing factors that affect the Federal workforce environment, GAO reported in Sept. 2020 that individuals who experience sexual harassment were more likely to leave their posts. Additionally, in March 2015, GAO reported that impediments to interacting with non-Federal scientific peers can be a disincentive to Federal employment. Addressing these issues, GAO said, would help these agencies build and sustain a diverse, highly-skilled S&T workforce.

“GAO has made numerous recommendations to address human capital management and other issues covered in this testimony,” the report states. “Federal agencies have implemented some of these recommendations, but have not fully implemented others.”

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Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.