OF THE PEOPLE

With GS-2210, OPM does the right thing for techies

Ira Hobbs

Federal agencies have been competing with the private sector for information technology talent for many years. Until recently, what often passed for IT job descriptions portrayed the real work employees perform about as accurately as the word hot describes the climate in Alaska. Luckily, as the competitions for talent reaches a feverish pitch, meaningless job descriptions for many federal IT slots are now a thing of the past.

On June 7, the Office of Personnel Management issued guidance to agencies for implementing new standards for job classifications. This first revision in 10 years will bring federal IT job classifications into closer alignment with the work employees'and prospective employees'actually perform. This modification is critical in a field where rapidly changing technologies create the need for new knowledge, skills and abilities as fast as they make others obsolete.

Ten years ago no one had ever heard the term webmaster, much less tried to recruit one. Many federal IT workers, ranging from computer specialists to public relations types to forms designers, morphed into webmasters for agency sites. Because of limitations in the GS-334 classification series, Web-related jobs were classified in occupational categories only vaguely related to building and maintaining Web sites.

The government's conventional practice of lumping all IT workers into a single job series made it difficult to recruit in an era when what you know drives compensation and performance more than the number of people you manage or other traditional factors.

The new GS-2210 classification standard breaks the IT job series into 10 subordinate specialties and will let agencies do two things: better identify which skills they need most and more accurately track turnover rates. Both are key to successfully designing recruitment and retention packages.

The new standard completely replaces the old GS-334 computer specialist standard. It also includes employees under other standards if their jobs are primarily related to the use and management of IT. For example, many telecommunications workers will be covered in the new Network Services specialty. Certain IT managers and policy development types, now under general management standards such as GS-301 and GS-340, will also be affected.

Significantly, the new standard will let agencies promote and recognize senior technical whizzes without forcing them to take on management responsibilities for which they may not be equipped. Now, nonsupervisors can be classified up to grade GS-15. That means top technical talent can reach senior levels of federal compensation without having to manage others.

OPM changed the system partly in response to concerns raised by the Chief Information Officers Council in its 1999 report on IT work force challenges. Along with the higher pay rates for certain IT employees announced by OPM in January, the new classification series is another step toward making the federal government the employer-of-choice for the skilled IT employees it needs.

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

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