IT salary plan dropped

IT salary plan dropped

Gloria Parker

CIO Council won't recommend separate pay scale'for now

By Christopher J. Dorobek
GCN Staff

The Chief Information Officers Council has tabled a proposal for a separate salary schedule for information technology workers.

Council members had debated the concept in recent months, and the possibility that the council would seek the necessary legislative changes seemed likely based on the statements of some council members and on draft versions of a council report on IT work force issues.

But in its final report, issued late last month, the CIO Council torpedoed the plan for a systems pay schedule'at least for the immediate future.

'I can't say that it isn't under consideration. What I can say is that it is not a recommendation in this report,' said Ira Hobbs, Agriculture Department deputy CIO and co-chairman of the CIO Council's Education and Training Committee.

'There may be elements that believe that is the appropriate way to go,' Hobbs said, but the Education and Training Committee has decided to work with the Office of Personnel Management to address the pay issue.

The IT pay scale proposal was dropped primarily in deference to OPM, said a council official who asked not to be identified.

A staff member with the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee said it would be difficult to convince committee members of the need for a separate pay scale for IT workers. Agencies already have a lot of authority to provide employ-ees with benefits, many of which are not being used fully, the staff member said.

Instead of proposing an IT pay scale, the council is recommending that OPM, in conjunction with the CIO Council, await the results of an OPM study on the IT occupational structure in government. The results are due this summer.

The study is looking at pay scales and classification schemes for IT workers. One of the goals is to develop a more flexible classification standard for IT jobs that recognizes current and evolving specialities, the council's report said.

Say what?

The decision to table the pay scale proposal shocked some council members.

State Department CIO Fernando Burbano, one of the proposal's chief proponents, said he was dismayed that the report did not confront the pay problem more directly. 'I thought we were done with studies,' he said. 'I was surprised to see it was still [recommending] a study.'

The State Department and other agencies are facing a worker shortage that promises to get worse, Burbano said. State has had a 20 percent to 30 percent vacancy rate in its systems jobs, hindering the department's ability to maintain and develop systems, he said.

Agencies see pay as a critical issue in attracting staff. The report, Meeting the Federal IT Workforce Challenge, available on the Web at cio.gov/itchalle.pdf, notes the importance of salary.

'A serious disparity exists in IT salary levels between the federal government and the private sector,' the report said.

A study by the Commerce Department found that starting salaries for computer science graduates with bachelor's degrees average $36,666, and a study by the University of Virginia's McIntire School of Commerce found that for its class of 1998, the average starting salary for graduates with a master's degree in management information systems was $50,288.

By comparison, the federal government's entry-level salaries for computer professionals range from $18,700 to $23,200, the report said.

More money

'Salary is becoming a big issue in attracting people and retaining them,' said Mark A. Abramson, executive director of the PricewaterhouseCoopers Endowment for the Business of Government.

Abramson recently completed a survey in which career federal executives said salary is a reason to think about leaving government.

No contest

Officials generally recognize that government cannot compete with the private sector in salary head-on.

Gloria R. Parker, CIO at the Housing and Urban Development Department and co-chairwoman of the Education and Training Committee, said salaries need to be within 20 percent of market rates to be competitive.

Aside from salary, recruitment and retention of workers is a long-term concern, members of the Education and Training Committee said.

W. Frederick Thompson, program manager for the Treasury Department's IT Work Force Improvement Project and a committee member, said many federal IT workers will be eligible for retirement in the coming years.

In addition to attracting new people, one of the goals is to persuade some of those people to stay, he said.

The council's report acknowledged that government pay levels are often not competitive.

It recommended that instead of creating a separate IT pay scale, agencies take advantage of existing pay bands, which give them some room to negotiate salaries.

'We chose to work very closely with the government's paymaster because we think they are on the right track on some things,' Hobbs said.

Committee members said the report also details ways other than pay to attract and keep staff.

The IRS, for example, has found people by posting job openings online, said Linda Wallace, chief of IRS electronic information services and a committee member.

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