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Federal gerontocracy contributes to lack of innovation

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The federal workforce's training levels and age demographics make it hard to adopt new technologies or innovations and pose long-term risks as more workers reach retirement age, said members of a panel hosted by the Center of Strategic and International Studies.

In a Jan. 24 forum on innovation for the government, Carly Fiorina, former chairman and CEO of Hewlett-Packard and co-chair of U.S. leadership in Development at CSIS, said there is "an unwillingness to change fundamental processes in a way that would permit the transformative power of technology to work."

Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council, said that demographics and being short staffed make the issue both unwillingness and inability. Part of the problem, he said, is that the government workforce  has a large percent of older workers, and it is also older than the private sector workforce. These workers can come with training histories that go against new modes of and are antithetical to how private businesses operate in the current economy, potentially keeping younger workers away.

Some areas of the government, especially for acquisition professionals, said Soloway, face losing many workers to retirement without having proper replacements. Reduced pay and better opportunities in the private sector have led to mid-career professionals leaving in large numbers, and the remaining workers don't have the experience needed to advance as quickly as opening will require.

Another danger is found in the information technology workforce. Soloway said a study from the Office of Personnel Management shows roughly 80,000 IT workers in the federal government, 45 percent of who are over 50 years old. Less than 4 percent of the IT staff are under the age of 30, which likely means new innovation will be hard to foster, he said.

This is dangerous, said Soloway, because budget cuts are not hitting training programs and training conferences. Until the government can address underlying conditions like workforce levels and training, it cannot adapt and support new innovation on a broad scale, he said.

The problem is systemic, said Soloway, because the federal workforce is under pressure to do more work with fewer resources and less training, making innovation the last item on their agenda.

For more:
- watch the CSIS panel session

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