OF THE PEOPLE

IT salary boosts are just a start

Ira Hobbs

Even though the rate of growth in the national economy appears to be slowing, I can say with pleasure that as of Jan. 15 the economic picture brightened for many of the federal government's information technology employees. But to be candid, I must also acknowledge that not everyone is jumping up and down with glee.

As you certainly know, the Office of Personnel Management approved special, higher salary rates for certain IT workers. Designed to help agencies in a highly competitive labor market, the raises became effective beginning with the start of the new pay year. The pay covers computer specialists, computer engineers and computer scientists at grades GS-5 through GS-12 governmentwide.

In my role as co-chairman of the Chief Information Officers Council's Workforce Committee, I worked with OPM and many other groups to see through passage of this important step. The effort began early last year when OPM became convinced of the need for additional compensation flexibility to help agencies address their recruitment and retention problems for the IT work force.

In May, OPM asked personnel directors to provide all sorts of staffing data. Based on its analysis of this data, OPM determined that the most severe IT staffing problems are found at the entry and midlevel grades, where salaries lag far behind nonfederal salaries. Agencies reported that managers expected entry-level staffing problems to increase significantly as they try to replace an increasing number of retiring IT workers.

Higher rates of pay are essential at grades GS-5 through GS-12 for agencies to compete effectively in the current labor market for high quality employees, especially those who are just beginning their careers.

This is all good news for affected workers. But judging from my e-mail it is clear that employees in the GS-13 and above grades feel'to put it politely'unappreciated.

I understand the disappointment many at the higher grades felt: The CIO Council was unable to secure a special pay rate for everyone and have it cover all IT occupational series, especially telecommunications.

But before anyone abandons the federal IT ship, note that approval of the special salary rate is just the first step. Many of my colleagues will continue the push to improve compensation for IT workers at all grades and in all series.

We also remain committed to working with our colleagues in human resources, encouraging them to exercise little-used OPM-approved retention tools that already exist and applying them to grade levels and IT occupational series. These tools include recruitment and relocation bonuses, retention allowances, flexible work schedules and increased training opportunities.

Longer term, the CIO Council is working with the National Academy of Public Administration toward completion of an independent study of IT compensation and other strategies to make recommendations on how the government can best compete.

The study's due date is July 31; the game is not yet over.

Ira Hobbs is deputy chief information officer of the Agriculture Department and a member of the CIO Council.

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