Implementing leading workforce practices is essential to successfully recruiting and retaining IT experts, and the U.S. Department of State has more work to do on that front, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) stated in a new report.

The government watchdog agency said the State Department has yet to fully implement a range of leading workforce practices. GAO evaluated a total of 15 recruitment and retention practices, and found that the State Department has fully implemented one of those, partially implemented 11, and not implemented three of the practices at all.

For example, State Department has collected training performance data but has not recruited continuously year-round for most of its IT positions or regularly assessed staffing needs, GAO stated.

“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,” the report says.

Because of the partial implementations of most leading workforce practices, GAO said that State dealing with numerous issues in recruiting and retaining IT experts, including:

  • Low entry-level pay and no recruiting incentives offered;
  • Lengthy hiring and clearance process;
  • Narrow focus of marketing and recruiting strategy;
  • Lack of detailed information in job announcements;
  • Low entry-level pay raises and limited retention incentives;
  • Limited promotion possibilities; and
  • Inaccuracy of position descriptions and performance of non-IT-related work.

GAO identified 10 challenges related to State’s recruiting and retaining of its IT workforce, and did not include three challenges in its public report due to State’s sensitivity concerns.

GAO did acknowledge that the State Department has taken steps to overcome some of these challenges, including raising entry-level pay for experienced IT applicants and expanding its incentive pay program. It also said the agency’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,” GAO concluded.

GAO made 16 recommendations to improve the State Department’s IT workforce management. The agency concurred with 15 of those.

The State Department did not concur with GAO’s recommendation that the agency’s Under Secretary for Management consider expanding the number of foreign services IT positions available to external applicants year-round. However, GAO said it believes the recommendation is still warranted.

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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.