Opinion: Rosie the programmer

Although the federal government is not always a paragon of equal opportunity, it has nevertheless been viewed as a place where women and minorities could expect a fairer shake in the competition for good jobs than the private sector. From Rosie the Riveter to Madeleine Albright, the government has often sought out women to fill a void in the economy or to showcase a commitment to workplace fairness.

In today's technology-driven economy, the federal government could be expected once again to be a place of ample opportunity, where women could get started earlier and move up faster. After all, we are living in one of the tightest job markets in history.

To some extent, that pattern is holding true: More women hold IT jobs in the federal government - from the top chief information officer to the lowest programmer - than ever before.

Yet what few statistics there are show a workplace that is dominated by men. In some places, such as the U.S. Department of Defense, the ratio of men to women in technical jobs is 10 to 1. Clearly, given the critical shortage of IT workers in government, the numbers are way out of sync.

Whatever the root cause of this problem, the fix is more education. That's why a congressional commission headed by Rep. Connie Morella (R-Md.) has recommended setting up specific targets for improving access to science, engineering and technical educations for women, minorities and people with disabilities.

As the commission has rightly concluded, the country's competitive edge in the global economy will be sharpest when we take steps - including making funding available - to educate those who have been historically under-represented in technical careers. The country's diversity has been a source of strength in the economic advances of the past, and it will be no different in the high-tech challenges of the future. Certainly, there is no better place to start showcasing that commitment than in the IT offices of federal agencies.

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