Are IT Pros Willing to Go Public?

Even in today's economy, the public sector holds small appeal.

You might expect that federal, state and local government agencies—long treated by IT professionals as the ugly stepsisters of potential employers—would be looking a lot more attractive these days.

After all, the sagging economy has erased a growing number of private-sector IT jobs, making the relative security of the public sector more appealing. At the same time, many public agencies have spent the last year boosting salaries and cutting hiring red tape to make themselves more desirable as employers.

Unfortunately for managers of public-sector IT organizations, however, as far as most IT pros are concerned, working for the government is still not an alluring proposition. Although CIOs at government agencies say theyre receiving more résumés in the current down economy, IT professionals with the most sought-after skills are still slow to actually sign on in the public sector.

"Things would have to get a lot worse before I ever considered the public sector," said Steve Farr, director of IT at Salerno/Livingston Architects, a private company in San Diego. "I would see it as a step back in terms of salary and in terms of the flexibility of the work environment."

Farrs attitude is typical of most in IT, according to David Foote, president and chief research officer at IT salary research company Foote Partners LLC, in New Canaan, Conn. Although the sellers market in IT jobs has come, at least temporarily, to an end, "if it really came down to accepting a job in the public sector, 80 to 90 percent of IT people would finally say no," Foote said.

Why? Public-sector IT recruiters continue to battle against several disadvantages, beginning with salaries that consistently lag behind those available in the private sector (see chart). In addition, Foote said, many IT pros believe that moving to the public sector would make it harder for them to work with the latest technologies, that theyd have to sacrifice workplace and work-hour flexibility, and that simply going through the public-sector hiring process would involve too much time and red tape.