Pay is not the only way

Why would anyone want to be a civil servant?


It’s an urgent question as senior federal careerists head for the door in droves.


So far, the information technology sector of the economy is still buoyant enough to ab-


sorb many who see greener pastures outside the government. At forums, conferences and
dinner speeches, this seems to be Topic A.


Ultimately, the quality of life as a federal manager reflects what Congress wishes.
During the late ’70s, the Carter administration and Congress overhauled the civil
service, raising pay scales and creating the Senior Executive Service precisely to avoid a
brain drain.


I remember this; a close uncle, now retired, was a member of the first SES class and I
recall the excitement as he described the change. It encouraged him and many others to
remain in federal service for another decade or more.


Now the Chief Information Officers Council is taking on a study of IT pay in government
[GCN, Oct. 12, Page 1]. A cloud of issues swirl around
the topic: outsourcing, the global demand for IT workers, government downsizing and the
tattered reputation of public service.


As Housing and Urban Development Department CIO Gloria Parker pointed out recently, pay
alone isn’t necessarily what motivates high-performing people.


In intellectual fields such as high technology, other important factors are in the mix.
These include the challenge of the job, the technology itself and the working conditions.


I believe that the council must work from a couple of assumptions that it will have to
drive home to Congress. First, the federal government needs a corps of technically astute
professionals. Merely outsourcing or privatizing everything related to IT is misguided.


Second, the idea that public service is honorable needs long-overdue burnishing. In
particular, the lack of respect careerists get from lawmakers and their staffs, coupled
with fickle support and funding for important projects, is what drives many feds to wonder
why they serve.


To be sure, pay levels are too low—vastly so—in many instances. Congress will
ultimately decide whether to sweeten the pot to keep talent from taking jobs at Technology
Inc. But lawmakers must also keep in mind that job satisfaction comes from more than a
paycheck.


Thomas R. Temin
Editor
editor@gcn.com

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