General Accounting Office
Debates High Tech Labor Shortage

(March 25, 1998)  In a report written for House Democratic Reps. John Dingell and George Brown on March 20, the General Accounting Office questioned a recent Commerce Department report that there is a shortage of information technology workers.  Release of this GAO report comes just before the Senate's likely consideration of S 1723, a bill which addresses the IT worker shortage. 

Rep. John Dingell is a Democrat from Michigan.  The sponsor of S 1723, Sen. Spencer Abraham, is a Republican from Michigan.  The GAO report concluded that:

"In summary, Commerce's report has serious analytical and methodological weaknesses that undermine the credibility of its conclusion that a shortage of IT workers exists."

The Report is not a study of the IT worker shortage.  Rather, it is a criticism of the methodology of a report written on the IT worker shortage written by the Office of Technology Policy of the Department of Commerce entitled "America's New Deficit: The Shortage of Information Technology Workers".

Kelly Carnes, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Office of Technology Policy, under whose authority the Commerce report was written, is travelling around the country holding townhall meetings on the IT workforce.  Today she is delivering the keynote address, "Developing an IT Workforce into the 21st Century," at the Business of Technology conference in Austin, Texas.

Gary Bachula, Acting Under Secretary for Technology, U.S. Dept. of Commerce, termed the GAO criticisms "unwarranted."

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Extended Excerpts from GAO Report

"The report appears to appropriately establish that the demand for IT workers is expected to grow, but it does not adequately describe the likely supply of IT workers.   Although Commerce reported that only 24,553 U.S. students earned bachelor's degrees in computer and information sciences in 1994, Commerce also stated that BLS projects increasing job growth - an annual average of 95,000 new computer programmers, systems analysts and computer scientists and engineers will be required to satisfy the increasing demand for IT workers between 1994 and 2005.  Pointing to the disparity between these two numbers and referring to evidence form other sources, Commerce concludes in the report's title and introduction that there is a shortage of IT workers.   Commerce did not, however, consider other likely sources of workers, such as college graduates with degrees in other areas.  As a result, rather than supporting its conclusion that a shortage of IT workers exists, the data and analysis support the report's observation that more needs to be know about the supply and demand for IT workers."  (Page 2.)

"The Commerce report cited four pieces of evidence that an inadequate supply of IT workers is emerging - rising salaries for IT workers, reports of unfilled vacancies for IT workers, offshore sourcing and recruiting, and the fact that the estimated supply of IT workers (based on students graduating with bachelor's degrees in computer and information sciences) is less than its estimate of the demand.  However, the report fails to provide clear, complete, and compelling evidence for a shortage or potential shortage of IT workers with the four sources of evidence presented."  (Pages 6-7.)

"Commerce stated that upward movement in salaries is evidence of a short supply of IT workers ...  These wage increases, however, may not be conclusive evidence of a long-term limited supply of IT workers, but may be an indication of a current tightening ..."  (Page 7.)

"Regarding unfilled jobs, Commerce cited the ITAA report, which concluded that about 190,000 U.S. IT jobs were unfilled in 1996 because of a shortage of qualified workers...  (T)he ITAA survey has a major methodological weakness.  ...  ITAA surveyed a random sample of 2,000 ... companies about their IT labor needs and received a total of 271 responses...  We consider a 14-percent response rate to be unacceptably low..."  (Page 8.)

"Commerce cited support for an emerging shortage in its observation that some companies are drawing upon talent pools outside the United States to meet their demands for IT workers. ... some professional engineering societies believe information regarding a short supply of IT workers in the United States is exaggerated and that it is not necessary to recruit foreign workers..."  (Page 9.)

"The report identified the decline in the number of computer science graduates as a factor contributing to an inadequate supply of IT workers.  ...  Commerce did not adequately explain why the decline in conferred bachelor's degrees in computer science would reflect a short supply of IT workers. ...  IT workers come from a variety of educational backgrounds ..."  (Page 9.)

The GAO report was written by Carlotta C. Joyner, Director, Education and Employment Issues, Government Accounting Office, 441 G St. NW, Washington, DC, 20548, 202-512-7014.  The title is "Information Technology: An Assessment of the Department of Commerce's Report on Workforce Demand and Supply."  The report is date is dated March 20, 1998, and referenced as GAO/HEHS-98-106R.  The report is 12 pages long, and has one three page enclosure.