The solution, however, is less clear. The civil service is aging. Right now, 6 percent of the national government workforce is under 30 years old, and for IT professionals that percentage is halved. Industry offers better pay, and it also offers faster hiring of eager soon-to-be graduates. The onboarding process for one government employee, the GAO found, took 19 months. Then there's the matter of what happens once you've managed to make it into the building. So-called digital-ready hires may be wasted if agencies aren't ready for them — which happens much too often in government workplaces that haven't spent any time figuring out how technologies relate to their missions.
Certainly, standing up an academy modeled after the military institutions could help with some of these problems, if the education were paid for and the hiring process streamlined. Forging a digital culture at these agencies, as the GAO notes, will also be essential; appointments for political leaders and promotions for career ones should take tech-savviness into account. It is also worth considering another possibility: With so many excellent STEM schools already out there, investing more in them may be in order before crafting from scratch a separate, siloed entity to foster civil servants. ROTC-esque scholarships at existing universities, for instance, could draw in a bigger, broader group of interested individuals while focusing on the expertise they'll need to work in government.
The good news is that by requesting the GAO report, Congress is asking the right questions. Now, lawmakers and federal agencies alike must look for — and prioritize — the right answers, instead of continuing to allow the government to lag where it ought to lead.