The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently spoke with technology leaders from government, academia, and nonprofits to discuss the efficacy of establishing a new service academy focused on training future digital civil servants, and found that tech leaders have significant concerns about the outcome of such an effort.

Among the comments that GAO received from tech leaders: the academy should focus on candidates with master’s degrees due to agencies needing staff with advanced skills; compensation for Federal digital staff isn’t competitive; and many potential digital staffers would not be willing to endure a lengthy Federal hiring process.

GAO’s findings stem from an October 13 roundtable discussion it held with tech pros including CIOs, chief technology officers, and chief data officers from Federal agencies.

According to those participants, agencies can better prepare for building a digital services staff pipeline by:

  • Integrating mission needs into digital service projects;
  • Developing professional growth opportunities;
  • Cultivating institutional relationships;
  • Establishing support networks; and
  • Building a data-centric culture.

“As the Federal government continues its modernization efforts across agencies, it faces a severe shortage of digital expertise in fields such as artificial intelligence (AI), data science, application development, cybersecurity, computational biology, and robotics process automation,” wrote GAO in its report. “According to participants in a roundtable of Federal officials and other experts, agencies’ needs for digital services staff vary in urgency and roles, with some needs requiring immediate attention while others are more long-term.”

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For digital services staff, GAO noted that adding more of these employees can help with agency efforts to update legacy systems, apply advanced technologies, manage cybersecurity risks, and reimagine service delivery.

“Considerations for a digital service academy include the kinds of skills that would be taught and the composition and size of a graduating class, according to roundtable participants,” GAO offered. “Further, they said digital services staff would need proficiency in both digital skills as well understanding the functions of government to meet agencies’ needs.”

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