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Diversity In Action

GAO seeks tech pros with multidimensional knowledge

This agency works mostly behind the scenes, but it’s rated one of the best federal programs to work for. IT security and engineering are hot hiring areas


Often called the “congressional watchdog,” the U.S. Government Accountability Office investigates how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars. This independent, nonpartisan agency audits government operations, investigates allegations of improper activities, performs policy analyses and outlines options for congressional consideration. Headquartered in Washington, DC, it has field offices across the country.

“Our mission is to support the Congress in meeting its constitutional responsibilities by following the federal dollar and providing the Congress with timely information,­” says Tim Persons, PhD, chief scientist. “And the dollar can lead us into some very scientific areas, such as the U.S. space program, climate change and weapon systems. As a result, our staff has to have diverse and multidimensional expertise.”

Seeking team players with high-level skills
Persons and Nabajyoti Barkakati, PhD, chief technologist, head up the agency’s center for science, technology and engineering.

“We provide consulting services to make sure that staff working on audits requiring complex technical knowledge ask the right questions and properly represent the topic,” Barkakati explains. Each year, GAO publishes about 1,000 reports based on its audits.

Technology’s increasing role in the issues that face the country means the agency has a growing need for scientists and engineers. Good communication skills and the ability to work in teams are key attributes for a job candidate, they agree.

Barkakati encourages job seekers interested in engineering or IT roles to visit the USAjobs.com website.

“IT positions in our center mainly focus on information security,” Barkakati says, “but the IT audit team focuses on information systems management, system design, testing and lifecycle processes.”

The demand for engineers is high and continues to rise, according to Persons. “For the most part, we don’t ask for a specific type of engineer, but we will cast our net for a general engineer. We need someone who can demonstrate high-level technical skills but also work broadly, because our work takes us in so many directions.”

One example is the area of nuclear energy, which covers everything from the U.S. weapons complex to environmental remediation to civilian power reactors, he notes. “We would love to find engineers with experience in more than one of those areas within the nuclear space because these are ongoing concerns.”

Opportunities to understand the broader context
GAO typically hires candidates with advanced degrees and professionals who have track records in the field. “We want science or engineering project management experience, even if it means just writing your thesis,” Persons notes. “However, we are happy to take in bright interns.”

The agency has relationships with colleges and universities that offer science policy programs. “Even if students don’t stay with us after graduation, we have inspired them to think about science and engineering in a broader sense,” Persons asserts. “Our interns have gone on to become great academicians who can approach their topics in a national context. We want to get the message out that as a diverse nation with diverse, complex problems, there are many core issues to be addressed.”

“We have a commitment to grow the science and technology capacity of the country,” Barkakati adds. “As a result, there is a lot of potential for science and tech professionals at GAO.”

Diversity training from the top down
Since 2010, diversity and inclusion training has been required of all GAO employees, including the head of the agency, who is the comptroller general of the United States, Persons says.

“Our goal is to enlarge the idea of diversity beyond the typical thinking of race or gender to include such things as age or even disciplines, like economy and social science and engineering,” Barkakati notes. “Our leaders encourage each of us to play a role in creating an inclusive atmosphere,” adds George M. Duncan, diversity and inclusion program manager.

Each of GAO’s units has a diversity implementation team that deals with specific issues. Periodically, the teams brief the diversity council on these issues.

“We’re trying to help people understand unconscious bias,” Duncan says. “Everyone has it and the challenge is to recognize it and make sure it’s not affecting our decision making. By building an inclusive environment, we can attract the most talented, diverse and experienced professionals to work at GAO.”

A flexible work environment
GAO has employee resource groups for African Americans, Hispanics, veterans, persons with disabilities and Asian Americans. “Each group has its own goals and activities, including community service work. But the agency also tries to coordinate its recruiting efforts by letting the groups know of job openings,” says Duncan. “We also send them to career fairs.”

The resource groups sponsor events throughout the year to celebrate their specific interests, with June set aside as an all-around diversity month. GAO has an annual awards ceremony to acknowledge individual employees’ contributions, including their service to the community, Duncan says.

GAO supports telework and has adopted work space sharing and hoteling in its field office locations. GAO also gives staff the option to work ten hours a day for a four-day work week.

The GAO headquarters building has a fitness center and a childcare center for employees, Duncan notes. Personal and financial counseling are available as well.

“Employees can participate in a bicycling club, a softball team, a chapter of Toastmasters, and other social activities that make the quality of work life great at GAO,” Duncan asserts. “For the third year in a row, the Partnership for Public Service named GAO as one of the best places to work among mid-sized federal agencies.”

D/C




gao.gov

Headquarters: Washington, DC
Employees: 2,900
Budget: $505 million
Business: Audit, evaluation and investigative services for the U.S. Congress

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