CIOs mull plan for IT pay scale

RICHMOND, Va.—To keep the information technology workers the government has now
and attract new recruits, the Chief Information Officers Council is weighing the creation
of a separate pay scale for government IT employees.


Council officials said they think that offering better pay will attract IT employees
and retain existing staff members, many of whom leave government for more lucrative
private-sector jobs.


Creating a special pay scale is rare and likely would take at least a year because
Congress must approve it through legislation, said a council member last week at the
Industry Advisory Council’s Executive Leadership Conference.


State Department CIO Fernando Burbano, who proposed the special pay scale, said the
government has established distinct pay scales for other skilled workers, such as
engineers. Recently, some agencies have received approval for special pay rates to retain
key workers.


He cited the Treasury Department’s Office of the Comptroller of the
Currency’s executive pay scale, which tops out at nearly $180,000, compared with
about $126,000 elsewhere in the federal government.


“That’s for a whole agency. What I’m proposing is a different spin.
It’s a cross between a special pay rate and the whole separate agency [rate],”
Burbano said.


The council’s Education and Training Committee will compile data from studies that
investigate the link between salary level and personnel retention, said committee
chairwoman Gloria R. Parker, CIO for the Housing and Urban Development Department.


“I cannot go to the CIO Council and say, ‘I believe this is a problem.’
We have got to prove that it’s a problem,” she said. “We’ve got to
write a justification paper before we ever spend resources to go try and change the pay
scale. We haven’t proven that to ourselves.”


The council recognizes that such a change will take time. “This will take a year
to two years,” Burbano said, “but you’ve got to get it started.”


The CIO Council will review the final proposal and then, if approved, submit it to the
Office of Management and Budget and Office of Personnel Management and eventually to
Congress.


Part of the project requires that the council figure out how such a pay scale would
become reality, Parker said. “All of us are sitting around saying, ‘How do we do
this in the government?’ Apparently there is some legislation that says we can do it.
The capability to do it is there. But nobody has ever done it,” she said.


Competition for IT workers is fierce, according to the Information Technology
Association of America. The Arlington, Va., association estimates there are at least
346,000 vacant IT jobs nationwide.


Pay is one incentive, Parker said. Workers also are attracted by promises of autonomy
or the chance to work on leading-edge technologies. Other people look for employers that
will pay for education and training, she said.


“Money sometimes is just a tiebreaker,” Parker said.


To study the exodus of IT workers from government, the education committee formed a new
subcommittee that will issue three reports early next year:


The subcommittee has officials from federal human resources departments, program staffs
and technical groups, Parker said.  

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