Budget cuts compound tech staffing problems
Asurvey released in January by the Lexington, Ky.-based National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) found that the current information technology (IT) work force is aging, but hiring freezes have prevented filling retirees’ positions. City and county IT departments are facing many of the same challenges as their state counterparts, and departments are adapting to managing larger workloads with fewer people and restricted budgets.
A glut of retiring baby boomers is a setback that public IT departments are facing on both the state and local levels, says Alan Shark, executive director for the Washington-based Public Technology Institute. “We’re seeing a significant number of technology executives who will retire over the next three to four years,” he says. Staffing cuts many state and local governments already have implemented in recent years create even greater challenges for IT departments facing the expected personnel loss from retirement, Shark says. “We’ve had people who had to eliminate half of their IT departments, so the cuts in some cases have been quite severe,” he says.
Budget restrictions have complicated the staffing situation in Englewood, Colo., a city of 32,000, says Jeff Konishi, the city’s IT director. The city’s IT department dedicates 70 percent of its $1.5 million annual budget to personnel. Normally, the department has 12 employees, but one of the full-time positions has been left open for nearly two years because of a hiring freeze, Konishi says.
At the same time, new technologies are developing rapidly, and meeting the city’s current technology needs has proven costly. Before, the department’s primary concerns were computer upgrades. Now, Konishi’s staff has to help other city departments maintain websites, police and fire records, social media and other applications the public uses. “The sales tax revenue we’re depending on for our general fund is stabilizing, but expenses are still going up. So we’re going to have to come up with a long-term plan to keep the budget balanced,” Konishi says. “We’re really trying to do everything we can to stay away from layoffs.”
Time is on their side
Local governments have a little more time to prepare for the coming baby boomer retirement wave, says Washington-based Public Technology Institute Executive Director Alan Shark. The average tenure for state chief information officers is about two and a half years, compared to about five years for local government CIOs, he says. “The state level is really more political,” Shark says. “More and more of the people at the state level have been part of the governor’s cabinet. At the local level, most people [in the CIO position] have worked their way through the system over many years, which has provided for greater stability and longevity.”
— Autumn Giusti is a New Orleans-based freelance writer.