State uses incentives to rebuild IT staff

State uses incentives to rebuild IT staff

By TONY LEE ORR | GCN STAFF

Patricia Popovich remembers when the drain of information technology workers at the State Department reached a critical stage.

'It was close to a disaster a couple of years ago, because we were losing people left and right to the private sector,' said Popovich, deputy chief information officer for management within State's IRM Bureau. 'Here in Washington, D.C., we have thousands upon thousands of small IT companies that were stealing our people.'

Going for it

State's response: 'We took an aggressive approach,' she said.

Using tools already available through the Office of Personnel Management, the department began stemming the tide of IT professionals flowing from government to the private sector.

Competing with businesses for entry-level tech workers was impossible, so the department focused on recruiting midlevel workers using OPM-approved bonuses of 25 percent of salary, she said.
In March 1999, State offered its first recruitment bonuses, Popovich said. Now, roughly two-thirds of the department's new hires get a stipend, paid throughout the year, that increases their salary by up to 40 percent, she said. The stipend is in addition to a signing bonus offered to join the department.

State also started using retention bonuses OPM had approved to keep current employees' eyes from wandering to the help wanted ads, she said.
The bonuses of up to 15 percent of salary are, like new employees' stipends, paid throughout the year, showing up in employees' paychecks every two weeks, she said.

OPM also is working to streamline the complicated government hiring process by using Web-based tools, an agency spokesman said. Next month, OPM will add a search option for IT occupations within government to make it easier for tech workers to find job openings.

The agency is developing what it calls a whole-person approach to assessing prospective employees. In addition to looking at essays that applicants write describing their knowledge and abilities, OPM considers communication skills, flexibility and ability to work within a team.
Offering a competitive salary is the top recruitment priority at the Mint, but speeding up the hiring process is close behind, agency spokesman Michael White said.

The government's slow hiring practices often push talented tech workers'who might balk at spending up to nine months in the application process'into the waiting arms of the eager private sector, he said.

The Mint wants to compete with the private sector on its own terms.

Try this

The agency recently tested private-sector procurement methods and wants to take the same approach to recruitment, trying new ways to speed the hiring process, focus on training and offer competitive salaries, White said.

At least some of the tools agencies need are already in place; State has used OPM's offerings to reduce the number of empty seats in its technology sections.

When Popovich began two years ago, between 35 percent and 40 percent of State's foreign IT positions were vacant, as were up to 30 percent of domestic positions, she said. Now, the department has a 10 percent vacancy rate worldwide.

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