OPM to expand definition of IT positions

The Office of Personnel Management plans to consolidate occupational titles and further define information technology positions.

Marilyn Gowing, director of personnel resources and the development center at OPM, briefed the Chief Information Officers Council in July on an initiative to create universal guidelines for classifying all occupations in the public and private sectors.

The Labor Department, the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and OPM each rely on different modes of classification, Gowing told the CIO Council. For example, one agency might call an employee a computer programmer while another agency might refer to someone doing the same job as a computer engineer.

In 1996 OPM addressed this situation by undertaking a study of professional and administrative occupations. Based on its findings, the agency compiled a revised Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system that decreases the number of classifications from 12,000 to fewer than 1,000, according to a source close to the project. "In 1997 the SOC came out, and a number of people looked at occupations across the [United States] to see if there's a common way to define [them]," the source said.

OPM will publish the new SOC in the Federal Register and will solicit feedback later this year, the source said. If agencies adopt OPM's system, it could streamline career categories considerably.

OPM does not always think less is more, however. While the agency busied itself consolidating labor categories, it discovered a need to expand titles in the IT arena.

"Across the board you're seeing a reduction [in titles]," the source said. "But in the IT [industry], it's the opposite. There are eight or nine classifications in the SOC for computer specialist."

In an effort to make these job titles clearer, OPM is proposing a multipurpose governmentwide analysis of how IT occupations are functioning at the federal level. The source said participating agencies could then access the study's results through OPM's automated Human Resource System manager.

"We figure it's really appropriate to factor in the IT occupations," the source said.

While the study would take a year to complete, it could provide helpful information about the status of IT careers in just a few months. The results will indicate "what competencies are needed to perform various IT positions in the federal work place today," the source said.

A spokeswoman for OPM would not comment on the project and said the agency does not allow its employees to answer questions on the record from the press.

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