The Rat has apparently joined a growing movement in government by departing from his years of service: the brain drain. And according to the NY Times, new brains aren’t coming in to replace the old ones because of the draw of places like Google.
A survey quoted in the Times article by Phillip Taubman, on the front page of the dead-tree edition, cited a 2007 M.I.T survey of students that found that very few systems engineering students were headed into defense or government positions– “28.7 percent of undergraduates were headed for work in finance, 13.7 in management consulting and just 7.5 percent in aerospace and defense. The top 10 employers included McKinsey, Google, Morgan Stanley, Lehman Brothers, Bain, JPMorgan and Oracle — but not a single military contractor or government office.”
There’s a simple reason for the lack of interest, really: money. The survey showed that the average annual starting salary in finance and high-tech was more than $70,000, compared with $37,000 at the Defense Department,” Taubman wrote.
Combined with the waves of retirement over the past few years, that means that the government–and especially the DOD–has been unable to replace the rapidly evaporating braintrust that handled things like, for example, contract oversight–resulting in things like the Air Force’s tanker contract woes. Folks the Rat has talked with point to the brain drain as being responsible for more and more of the process management on contracts being handed over to the contractors themselves–which is like putting, if you’ll pardon the rodent pejorative, like putting squirrels in charge of counting nuts. (And apparently, according to Defense Systems’ Forward Observer blog, analysts think so too.)
So far, the solutions discussed by government officials aren’t exactly raking in the new braintrust. Becoming an “employer of choice” for Gen Y, as they’re constantly called, is going to take a lot more than making sure current employees are happy ambassadors of workplace joy, or making sure that they can surf Facebook and YouTube from work. The hiring process, which director of the Office of Personnel Management, Kay Coles James admitted in a 2002 interview was actually driving applicants away because of its complexity and length, hasn’t really improved all that much. And to be blunt, the attraction of working on the kinds of interesting problems government folks get to work on is probably not strong enough to draw someone away from an employer offering twice the money AND cool toys.