Jan 18, 2022 - Technology

Great Resignation boosts White House's tech talent hunt

Illustration of a cardboard box full of cursors.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Biden administration wants to capitalize on the Great Resignation to fill thousands of expected government tech and cybersecurity jobs.

Why it matters: The administration wants to remake how government websites deliver services and improve the nation's cybersecurity, but it will need skilled workers to make it happen.

What's happening: Senior officials are streamlining the hiring process for tech jobs and hoping to tempt technical workers with the lure of making a difference in people's lives through government work.

  • Federal chief information officer Clare Martorana told Axios that recent executive orders on cybersecurity and updating government services will lead to thousands of jobs openings at time when competition is fierce for workers with technical skills.
  • But with the pandemic prompting people to re-evaluate their careers, Martorana said she sees an opportunity for the government to capitalize on workers who want to make a change.

What they're saying: To highlight the benefits of government service, Martorana recalled a technologist working for Veterans Affairs who became overwhelmed with emotion after completing a project.

  • "She said, 'I just spent three years optimizing a shopping cart. And today what I coded actually helped somebody,'" Martorana told Axios. "She was a mess, in the best way. Because she actually got to see her skills helping a human."
  • The administration is hoping that the government's pandemic initiatives could help spur tech-savvy workers to join up.
  • "More people than ever in the last few years have interacted with government service. Did you find it frustrating? Come make it better," Mina Hsiang, administrator of the U.S. Digital Service, told Axios.

Catch up quick: Biden signed an executive order in December calling for agencies to improve how they deliver services for consumers, such as allowing Americans to renew passports online or letting retirees claim benefits online.

  • The administration is in the process of hiring customer experience strategists, with the goal of making online services more consumer friendly.
  • People "can order a pair of shoes as they walk down the street and have them delivered the next day. They expect the government service that they're looking for to be the same," GSA administrator Robin Carnahan told Axios.
  • The Department of Homeland Security in November launched a recruiting effort for cybersecurity professionals as both the government and private sector struggle to fill vacancies.
  • The Biden administration also launched a new program called the U.S. Digital Corps earlier this year, meant to bring software engineers, data scientists and others into federal agencies for two-year fellowships.

Details: To be more competitive with the private sector, officials are attempting to speed up the hiring process. Officials have begun interviewing applicants to create pools of candidate types, such as data scientists, then sharing those names with individual agencies.

  • That led to agencies making 97 offers to data scientists, with 47 accepting. In one case, an agency was able to select a candidate in less than a week.
  • "We cannot expect to be competitive if it takes us six months to hire someone in the context of an environment where people get hired easily on the spot or in two weeks," Hsiang said.

Flashback: There was a rush to bring tech-savvy professionals into government service during the Obama administration following the botched rollout of the HealthCare.gov website.

  • Hsiang worked on the rescue team for that site, and now leads USDS, which deploys teams to help with technical work across the government as well as implementing new programs.

Between the lines: USDS is growing too — at 215 people, it's larger than it's ever been and is currently onboarding 30 more people, Jordan Ginn, director of talent acquisition for USDS, said.

  • "Getting people to try it can be challenging because it's a little bit of a leap," Hsiang said. "But once you're here, you see how much impact you can have of the type that you've been trying to find, and people just really are excited about it."
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