As the federal government’s partial shutdown threatens to spill over into its fourth week, House leaders and industry representatives are worried the work-stoppage will have long-running implications and could cripple the government’s ability to hire qualified IT workers in the future.
“How can we ever hope to recruit or maintain IT talent when hardworking government workers are told: ‘Sorry, you aren’t getting paid, but you still need to come to work’ or ‘Sorry, but no paycheck this week because of politics?’” Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., said in a statement. “Large private sector companies never say this to their employees and these are our competitors when it comes to IT talent recruitment.”
In the previous Congress, Kelly was ranking member of the IT subcommittee and is expected to chair the body in the new session.
Concerns about the shutdown only complicate an already difficult job market for federal government agencies. Between April 2017 and March 2018 there were more than 300,000 open cybersecurity jobs, according to research by CompTIA, with more than 13,000 alone in the public sector.
However, the talent gap in Washington, D.C., is already expected to worsen with the introduction of Amazon’s second headquarters in the Crystal City area of Arlington, Virginia, just blocks from the Pentagon.
“With the addition of an Amazon HQ2, federal agencies are no longer going to be able to recruit top-tier talent to the government directly. Not many are going to want to work for a federal agency when they can work for Amazon,” said Steve Witt, a director at Nintex, a software company specializing in automation. “With government shutdowns occurring on a somewhat regular basis, and the current shutdown being longer than past ones, it’s making private employment far more appealing.”
Roughly 800,000 federal workers are affected by the shutdown, which has taken a particular toll on the cybersecurity community.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology is experiencing an 85 percent cut in its workforce. The Director of National Intelligence’s analysis and operations staff has been slashed 60 percent. And the newly created Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has 45 percent of its staff furloughed.
In addition to federal employees who are either furloughed or working without pay, the shutdown affects private contractors as well. Experts have previously told Fifth Domain that federal services companies may experience cash-flow shortages.
“Unlike federal civilian employees, no one provides these contractor employees with back pay to cover their lost work,” wrote David Berteau, president of the Professional Services Council, a membership organization of government contractors, in a Jan. 8 letter to President Donald Trump. “These contractors work side-by-side with their government counterparts, motivated by the same goals of public service and safety. They deserve to be treated the same as their federal civilian counterparts.”
Jessie Bur contributed to this report.
Justin Lynch is the Associate Editor at Fifth Domain. He has written for the New Yorker, the Associated Press, Foreign Policy, the Atlantic, and others. Follow him on Twitter @just1nlynch.