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March 23, 1998

GAO Casts Doubt on Extent of IT Worker Shortage

Today, George E. Brown, Jr., ranking Democrat on the House Science Committee, released a General Accounting Office (GAO) report that calls into doubt the claims that there is a shortage of information technology workers.  Brown, joined by ranking Commerce Democrat John Dingell, asked GAO to review a report released last September by the Department of Commerce titled, America's New Deficit: The Shortage of Information Technology Workers.  The Department of Commerce report claimed that there was a shortfall of workers, leaving employers scrabbling over too few candidates for too many jobs.

GAO reviewed the Commerce report and found that it "has serious analytical and methodological weaknesses that undermine the credibility of its conclusion that a shortage of IT workers exists."  GAO also attacked the findings of a much quoted Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) report that claimed there are 190,000 unfilled positions in IT fields.  GAO found that the response rate to ITAA's survey was far too low, just 14%, to allow for accurate generalizations.  According to GAO, "the effective response rate should usually be at least 75 percent."

Both the ITAA and Department of Commerce studies have been cited by those pushing to raise immigration caps for skilled temporary workers from the present rate of 65,000 a year to at least 90,000.  Bills have been introduced in both the House and Senate that would increase immigration to meet the supposed shortage.

Upon release of the report, Brown commented that, "In making public policy, a bad number can be more dangerous than no number at all. The GAO study demonstrates that all the numbers on a shortage are unreliable.  We simply don't know enough about labor conditions in information technology fields to begin to develop an appropriate response.

"I am all for stronger efforts to educate young people and retrain older workers for information technology positions, but I have yet to see convincing evidence that these programs won't produce enough Americans to fill job openings in the industry.  Some are calling for raising temporary worker immigration caps, but the data are too unreliable to support such a radical step.  If we fill jobs with temporary workers, the opportunities for American workers will decline.

"In the 1980s we were repeatedly warned by Federal agencies and some associations that the Nation was not producing enough scientists and engineers.  The result was that we actually over-produced scientists, leaving many of our brightest young people with dim job prospects.  I would hate to see us repeat the same mistake by producing talented domestic candidates for the growing IT industry only to see positions scooped up by foreign workers."

Brown and Dingell, joined this time by Mr. Klink of Pennsylvania, will send a letter later this week asking GAO to continue to probe this complex issue.

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