Never Too Late to Learn

WASHINGTON (08/14/2000) - Like most of his colleagues in government, Tony Nuriddin wanted to keep his technology skills up-to-date. And the only way to do that was to go back to school.

So Nuriddin, 34, who has spent 15 years in the Air Force, enrolled in the government's CIO University information technology certificate program to maintain proficiency in his field. He worked by day as a communications and information manager for the Air Force and went to school at night at George Washington University. The government paid US$562 toward the $1,500 cost of each of the 10 courses he took. He paid the rest and went to school two nights a week for two years to get a certificate to help him further his career.

"I look forward to leaving the military in five years," he said recently. "In the interim, I will continue to educate myself in order to remain competitive and prepared for the transition from military life to civilian employment."

Nuriddin is part of a growing number of government workers taking advantage of government-sponsored courses. And there are many reasons these days to do so.

To combat a chronic shortage of IT workers, the government is financing educational initiatives to create a more skilled work force. One of the initiatives, the CIO University, graduated its first class of 18 students last month. Another initiative, an electronic government fellowship program for federal workers, will get under way later this year.

"Between government and academia, it's the place where we meet," said Emory Miller, director for professional IT development at the General Services Administration. Miller runs the CIO University program, a joint initiative of the CIO Council and GSA.

Miller said the CIO University philosophy is about integrating government, not creating more stovepipes, which hampered the delivery of services across government.

"It is no longer the mainframe in the basement, the server down the hall," he said. "We do not develop an agency business plan and walk down the hallway to the IT person's office, knock on the door and say, "Deliver this.' The IT person should be integral in developing the business plan."

CIO University is a consortium of universities in the Washington, D.C., area offering dozens of graduate-level programs to address the needs of high-tech workers. The courses are designed to teach students to look at IT in new ways, develop new types of architectures and deliver services in the most cost-effective manner.

"I find that the adult students know about half of what they need to know, but they are not sure what half," said Cynthia Shoemaker, program representative for CIO University at George Washington University.

The second new educational initiative available for government workers is sponsored by the nonpartisan think tank the Council for Excellence in Government. The council's new e-government fellows program is modeled after another council program that has trained government executives in leadership skills.

"Much of it boils down to leadership, personal responsibility for leadership.

These are the risks that we're asking people to take," said Steve Cochran, director of the Technology Leadership Consortium at the Council for Excellence in Government.

Cochran and others recently spent four days at the Ben & Jerry's Homemade Holdings Inc.'s ice cream headquarters in Vermont. The company is well-known for its enlightened leadership policies, and the council wanted to see how government could take advantage of its techniques.

The e-government fellows program - which costs about $10,000 per student - will be funded by federal agencies that nominate fellowship candidates. Participants will meet about three days a month. "We are carefully balancing the agencies, from the Defense Department to security agencies and civilian agencies, to make it a balanced group. We want to be able to cut deals across government and the research industry," Cochran said.

The first e-fellows will include 25 government employees, people already in leadership positions, who want to hone their skills in working across government and the private sector to come up with the best working models for technology. "A CIO is a very different kind of person from agency to agency. A [candidate] might be in an undersecretary position. At another agency, a [candidate might be at the] GS-14 level, but in a position to affect policy and budgeting," Cochran said. However, participation is not without sacrifices, said Richard Guida, chairman of the Federal PKI Steering Committee, based at the Treasury Department.

"For any senior executive, whatever time they spend during the day going to class, they spend the night catching up on what they haven't done. And that makes it a 12- to 14-hour work day," Guida said.

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