A unique exchange program permits government and private sector organizations to exchange high-tech workers. The goal of the Information Technology Exchange Program (ITEP) is to provide both sectors with an opportunity to share best practices and to better understand each other’s operating practices and hurdles.
The program will help improve the information technology competencies and skills of high-performing individuals in federal agencies and private firms. According to Joyce France, director, chief information officer (CIO) management services, Office of the CIO, U.S. Defense Department, Arlington, Virginia, the program is unique because it allows the two sectors to exchange their talent. “Instead of having contracts in place, this program allows people to come in on a rotation to share those experiences while gaining knowledge of the private sector and the federal government,” she says.
France is sanguine about the benefits of the program. However, because the effort is different from most government initiatives, many agencies are at different levels of implementation. She notes that in the past, most arrangements between private sector and government personnel were done via contract, usually to get skilled personnel for a specific project. “This is totally different. You don’t need a contract. However, there are rules and regulations that OPM [Office of Personnel Management] has put in place that we must follow, dealing with ethics and things of that sort,” she adds.
The need for ITEP was established as a part of the E-Government Act of 2002. The OPM issued a policy document for the initiative in the Federal Register in 2005 providing guidance to all participating federal agencies by outlining the effort’s requirements and framework. ITEP was formally established in 2005, but France admits that working through the regulations and preparing the legal framework to protect both sectors took almost nine months.
The government and private sector share many information technology challenges so both can benefit from exchanging expertise, she notes. For example, the government is currently working to protect personal, identifiable information. “The private sector—the credit card companies and banks—has systems in place that do a pretty good job. So I think the federal government can learn from these institutions that have had these systems in place for a long time. On the other hand, I think the private sector can learn a lot from how the U.S. Department of Defense secures its networks,” she shares.
Another goal of ITEP is to provide young people entering the private sector and government with experience and skills and offer all employees the opportunity to expand their own professional careers. Government employees can rotate into a high-tech firm for up to two years to expand their skills set while retaining their pay, leave and benefits. “I look at this as a best practice and retention tool. I think that’s a plus for the federal government to help us retain young talent,” she says.
ITEP seeks to exchange information technology personnel at all levels. Assignments range from three months to two years. France notes that the Defense Department is especially interested in hosting private-sector specialists experienced in enterprise architecture, project management, security, data management and information sharing. The types of jobs that can be exchanged are unlimited as long as they deal with information technology. “We don’t have any boundaries as to what the job is. It could be on the technical side or the policy side,” France explains.
The department has created a toolkit that outlines the required steps for private sector and federal agency participation in ITEP. Some 10 agencies within the Defense Department have developed their ITEP plans, although these are at varying stages of completion. France notes that while no arrangements currently are in place to exchange personnel, she hopes to place up to 10 individuals in positions by the year’s end.
One challenge facing ITEP is time. The program’s original author, the House Committee on Government Reform, wrote a sunset clause so funding ends in December 2007 across the board for France’s office as well as other participating federal agencies. France notes that her office has pled with the committee to extend the program and provided the House with information indicating that all of the processes are ready and meet with the approval of the department’s legal and ethics agencies. “Now we’re ready to market and put some of these programs in place,” she says.
The Defense Department CIO’s office has approached professional associations and interested industry firms to market the program. The office also has been providing the Federal CIO Committee with information so it can request extensions to other federal agencies and has been discussing the program’s benefits with different government agencies, private sector firms and associations. ITEP will have a booth at AFCEA’s LandWarNet event next week.
Government agencies and commercial firms that wish to participate in ITEP can get more information from the initiative’s home page. Interested government agencies must devise a plan with processes and an approval cycle. Private-sector firms must identify the areas where they are interested in teaming with the Defense Department and the necessary steps to place one of their personnel with a government agency.