OF THE PEOPLE

IT worker pay: The challenge continues

Ira Hobbs

As the political tussle over President Bush's tax cut proposal shows, when it comes to money, it is nearly impossible to fashion a remedy everyone perceives as fair.

On the issue of obtaining higher salaries for government information technology workers, however, systems chiefs have no choice but to continue trying. And we will.

The issue is far from over, especially for IT workers at GS-13 level and higher who were not included in the special salary adjustment that took effect in January.

The pay increase, as reported, affects 33,000 workers. The raises are designed to improve the government's capacity to compete with the private sector, and they range from 7 percent to 33 percent, with the largest increase going to workers in entry-level grades. Understandably, workers in higher grades have wondered, 'What about us?'

Well, an answer to that question is coming soon from the National Academy of Public Administration. NAPA is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan and well-respected organization chartered by Congress to improve government operations, and it is hard at work on the problem.

As you may have heard by now, NAPA is conducting a survey of best practices in IT compensation and human resource management from a cross section of private- and public-sector organizations.

NAPA is independently assessing how fair the General Schedule pay system is in letting the federal government compete for IT workers. The academy eventually will propose solutions for the problems it identifies.

If NAPA does its job well, the recommendations will be flexible enough for agencies to use, depending on their requirements. The final report will provide a cost-benefit analysis of several strategies for bumping up IT pay, and it will outline basic principles for any proposed pay system.

To keep the momentum for change going, NAPA also will develop a plan for identifying procedures that require governmentwide approval or congressional action, as well as steps agencies can take.

The work will complement an analysis by the Office of Personnel Management, which is undertaking a broader review of the IT work force, looking at issues such as competency requirements for IT positions and new qualification and classification standards.

By now, NAPA's preliminary findings, not available at this writing, should have been released. The Chief Information Officers Council plans to post them on its Web site, at www.cio.gov.

When all is said and done, IT workers who choose to build careers in the federal government will be better off. For now, the president's tax-cutting plans notwithstanding, IT workers can at least be thankful they don't have to pay huge taxes on expired stock options.

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

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