The Clinton administration has a message for teenagers who think computer programmers are social outcasts: Geeks are cool.

The U.S. Department of Commerce said yesterday that it will launch an advertising campaign next year to persuade America's youth to consider careers as information technology workers. Commerce Secretary William Daley announced the marketing pitch as part of the department's assessment of the nationwide demand for more high-technology workers.

Women in Film, a nonprofit organization of entertainment industry members, has been enlisted to design public service announcements, a poster and other materials to dispel "the negative `geek' or `nerd' stereotype of technical workers," Daley said. Warner Bros. executives are assisting in the project.

No decisions on the creative approach of the ads have been made, officials said.

The nation will require more than 1.3 million new skilled workers in key info-tech occupations -- computer scientists and engineers, systems analysts, and programmers -- between 1996 and 2000, the department concluded. About 1.1 million workers will be needed to fill newly created jobs, while another 240,000 will be required to replace workers who retire or leave the field.

California, Texas and Virginia are among the states that will have the largest number of information technology workers by 2006, the Commerce report predicted. Orgeon, Georgia and Colorado will have the fastest-growing IT work forces over the next six years.

Because job descriptions for information technology workers change rapidly and reliable data on job openings aren't available, "there is no way to establish conclusively whether there is or is not an overall IT worker shortage," the report said. The department has ducked the political debate between the industry, which says a grave IT worker shortage exists, and labor unions and other groups that say the problem will cure itself.

But there is widespread evidence that demand for IT workers is strong and growing, and companies are struggling to find tech workers with the most critical skills, the department said. The Commerce Department report on the IT work force is based on town hall meetings held around the country.

The department issued a long list of steps that could help increase the supply and skill levels of IT workers, including closer links between schools and colleges and tech companies, better methods of teaching math and science in high schools and more pay for teachers in those fields, incentives by companies to encourage tech workers to fill teaching positions and new steps to train older workers, women and minorities for tech positions.