Information Technology

Assessment of the Commerce Department's Report on Worker Demand and Supply Gao ID: T-HEHS-98-144 April 21, 1998

Industry reports and various newspaper and magazine articles have predicted that severe shortages of information technology workers could have a crippling effect on the growth of the economy. The Commerce Department prepared a report intended to bring attention to the issue and to encourage stakeholders to examine the potential shortages and to take the steps needed to avoid them. This testimony discusses GAO's recent report (GAO/HEHS-98-106, Mar. 1998) on the Commerce Department's analysis of the supply and demand for information technology workers and its conclusion that a shortage of such workers exists in the United States.

GAO noted that: (1) Commerce's report has serious analytical and methodological weaknesses that undermine the credibility of its conclusion that a shortage of IT workers exists; (2) however, the lack of support presented in this one report should not necessarily lead to a conclusion that there is no shortage; (3) instead, as the Commerce report states, additional information and data are needed to more accurately characterize the IT labor market now and in the future; (4) 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; (5) although Commerce reported that only 24,553 U.S. students earned bachelor's degrees in computer and information sciences in 1994, Commerce also stated the Bureau of Labor Statistics 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; (6) pointing to the disparity between these two numbers and referring to evidence from other sources, Commerce concludes in the report's title and introduction that there is a shortage of IT workers; (7) Commerce did not, however, consider other likely sources of workers, such as college graduates with degrees in other areas; and (8) 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 known about the supply and demand for IT workers.

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