IRS lures IT workers with bonuses and raises

The IRS is counting on bounties to attract and hold the information services employees
it needs.


The IRS in recent months has paid hiring bonuses and retention allowances to fill 100
vacant systems jobs, said John Yost, project director for the tax agency’s date code
project office. Most of the new employees started work this month.


“Our first goal is to hold on to the people we have,” Yost said. Under a
program that began in January, all programmers working on year 2000 readiness got a 10
percent raise, also known as a retention allowance, he said.


New hires get a bonus of up to 25 percent of the first year’s salary. Since early
summer, the IRS has hired more than 60 GS-5 and GS-7 programmers from among 1,000
applicants, and it has filled about 20 GS-13 and GS-14 positions, Yost said. After six
months, the new employees will be eligible for the 10 percent retention allowance, too.


Many new hires came to the IRS because of its benefits package and the likelihood of
long-term employment, Yost said. They had to have a general data processing background and
the ability to learn C, C++ and Cobol programming, he said.


Some information services employees report to the IRS headquarters but work in remote
offices. The IRS plans to fill another 100 information positions by July to meet its goal
of 1,600, Yost said.


At least a dozen Senior Executive Service positions were filled during the past six
months, Yost said, through advertisements that emphasized, rather than downplayed, the
challenges faced by the politically sensitive and much-maligned agency.


The bonuses have definitely improved morale, Yost said. “We can see improvements
in the infrastructure for the program environment, in what we deploy and field” and
in other tangible areas, he said.


A few employees of other agencies have jumped to the IRS. Three Army headquarters
employees have done so in recent months, an official there said. He said less money and
cutbacks in internship programs have made it more difficult to hire college graduates
directly out of school.


Although money will not solve all hiring and retention issues, it goes a long way, said
Fernando Burbano, chief information officer at the State Department. “It’s not
the silver bullet, but we do need to address it,” he said.


Burbano drafted a Chief Information Officers Council proposal that the government
create a special pay scale for information technology workers [GCN, Oct. 12, Page 1].


Although the CIO Council has gotten the change wheels turning, it could take time to
create such a pay scale. Congress, the Labor Department, the Office of Management and
Budget, the Office of Personnel Management and the White House all would have to approve
the creation of a new pay scale for one group of workers, he said.


Meanwhile, Burbano, who oversees a global work force of 2,000 at State, said he
struggles with a job vacancy rate of 20 percent and sometimes 30 percent.


“We’ve had buyouts and retirements and a steady loss to contractors”
that have no salary caps as agencies do, he said.


State plans to implement recruitment bonuses in January, contingent on new employees
staying at the department for certain minimum periods, Burbano said.


Personnel officials at State are reviewing the planned bonuses’ legal
ramifications, he said, because “there’s been some difficulty at other
agencies.” 

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