THE VIEW FROM INSIDE: Walter R. Houser

IT pay raises don't go to all the workers they should

Walter R. Houser

Beginning Jan. 1, 2001, more than 33,000 federal employees will receive pay increases. The new information technology special salary rates will cover current and newly hired employees in the GS-334 computer specialist, GS-854 computer engineer, and GS-1550 computer scientist occupational series at grades GS-5 through GS-12.

As a result, agency classification specialists will be challenged by legions of federal employees performing IT jobs that are not in the 334 Computer Specialist series. This raise does not apply to IT-related occupational categories such as GS-301 miscellaneous administration and program series, GS-343 management and program analysis, GS-391 telecommunications or GS-511 auditing. Employees in these and other series will be eager to move when they see their cubicle neighbors getting bigger checks for doing the same work.

The Office of Personnel Management states on its Web site: 'Net pay increase in January 2001 for most GS-334 computer specialists will range from about 7 to 33 percent over their 2000 annual locality pay rates, depending on grade level. Employees in positions at lower grade levels will receive larger net pay increases than employees in positions at higher grade levels.'

Several articles, including one published in the Washington Post, tried to reason out why the pay raises were not aimed at the most experienced, highest-grade employees. The consensus was that younger mid- and lower-level IT employees were most likely to leave, in contrast to older, more experienced ones who would presumably stay until they could collect their federal pensions.

Powerful incentive

To put it bluntly, high-level government executives are shackled in place with golden handcuffs. Strangely, it is workers at midlevel management that politicos hope will leave. Why encourage them to stay by paying them what they're worth?

Fortunately, agencies such as Justice, Treasury and State have a more enlightened attitude. They pay IT managers and senior technicians up to 15 percent extra for keeping their skills current through education and professional certification. Even if a federal worker must take this training on his or her nickel and time, 15 percent still is a significant incentive.

Perhaps other agencies figure that if they want state-of-the-art work they can hire contractors.

Contractors are easier to manage and easier to axe once their work is not needed or they become a bother. By contrast, federal workers are difficult to reassign or otherwise clear out. Besides, contract dollars are not salaries, so budgets can rise while the civil servant headcount drops'a little fuzzy math for you.

One colleague, a Microsoft-certified Windows NT engineer, lamented to me via e-mail: 'I have desktops, servers and laptop systems running anything from Win95 to Windows 2000. I perform help desk services for approximately 70 users. I build and maintain the directorate's Web site. I am the IT equipment custodian. I'm responsible for computer security and training for my users ... I am a GS-12 [but] do not qualify for the special salary rates for IT workers. My job classification is that of a GS-0501, financial administrator. Now, tell me, which of my duties are financial administration?'

Those who are not covered by the new rates but think they ought to be should consider the new GS-2200 series, a new occupational group for IT workers. The draft 'Job Family Position Classification Standard for Administrative Work in the Information Technology Group,' GS-2200A, is now available for comment.

The proposed GS-2200 standard identifies job duties which can be termed those of an IT specialist. Typical duties include customer support, data management and information systems security, webmaster, software engineer, systems analyst and others.

A copy of the standard can be found at 'What's Hot in Federal Classification and Qualifications?' or at www.opm.gov/fedclass/html/whatshot.htm, although the comment period has passed.

If you can read the technical sections of GCN without your eyes glazing over, perhaps you should talk to management about reclassifying your job.

Walter R. Houser, who has more than two decades of experience in federal information management, is webmaster for a Cabinet agency. His personal Web home page is at www.cpcug.org/user/houser.

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