Editorial: OPM innovation promises dividends

The Office of Personnel Management, a new player in the unfolding millennium drama, has given a much-needed boost to the government's Year 2000 fix by crafting an innovative policy to help agencies attract and retain computer programmers.

OPM recently informed agencies that employees working on critical Year 2000 projects are now eligible for "premium pay," giving agencies new leverage in retaining staff. Another OPM plan makes it easier for agencies to bring back retired programmers, who worked on the many programs now being fixed, by waiving rules that would restrict how much they could earn.

These new policies recognize that the federal high-tech worker shortage ranks with technical, financial and time constraints as one of the major obstacles to agencies meeting the Year 2000 deadline.

Private industry has a definite edge over government agencies in being able to escalate pay dramatically to attract workers with appropriate skill sets. If the government's idea of premium pay does not put agency pay on par with corporate pay, at least it advances the issue.

But more important, the OPM plan sets a good precedent for the rest of the government by demonstrating a willingness to try new ideas— to change rules if necessary to give agencies access to needed resources.

The Year 2000 fix will not be crafted by policy-makers. There are no loopholes that will put off the hard work of fixing and testing the millions of lines of programming code. But as pressures mount, whether it be to address the Year 2000 bug or to meet some new challenge, the government must be willing to question convention and embrace new ideas that will bring us into the next century.

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