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VA hopes to convince tech workers that public service matters

Veterans Affairs officials want to hire more skilled experts from the tech industry. But first they have to convince them that government jobs are important too.

“The tech industry as a whole lacks a tradition of public service, which I personally think is distressing,” said Charles Worthington, chief technology officer for the department, during a press event Thursday. “This industry needs to grow up and build that culture.

“One of the most prestigious things you can do out of law school is to clerk for a federal judge. But there’s no equivalent, for a staff engineer. A significant number of the best lawyers, the best scientists in the country, they work in public service for part of their careers. Tech industry workers also need to view it as part of their job to spend some of their career in public service too.”

Worthington’s comments came as officials from the department’s information and technology branch discussed plans to boost their workforce in the coming year, with an emphasis on specialists in cyber security, artificial intelligence and user support services.

Kurt DelBene, Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology, said one of the biggest obstacles in filling those jobs isn’t availability but convincing skilled recruits that “VA is a great place to work.”

“It’s a sacred mission to be delivering health care and benefits to veterans who have already committed their lives to defending us around the world,” he said. “That’s a great value proposition to recruits, but we have to match it with a better career path. You need to have an understandable career path you can launch into, in industry just as well as government.”

Worthington said VA leaders have been working on that in recent years, developing job descriptions that better correspond to commercial sector posts. New pay and hiring rules adopted by Congress in 2022 are also helping with those goals.

“As a whole, government has been relatively slow to create roles that make sense for somebody that has spent their whole career in the tech industry,” he said. “We’re changing that now with some of these new positions, and by making it easier to get into the government.”

DelBene did not specify what his agency’s hiring targets for fiscal 2024 will be, but noted that VA as a whole has made hiring a point of emphasis in the last year.

The information technology branch has seen significant growth in recent years. VA’s health and benefits mobile app passed 2 million downloads in late 2023, and VA.gov — the department’s main online portal — sees roughly 13 million logins per month, its highest usage rate ever.

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