Report: Government must work to attract IT workers

A report released last week by the CIO Council argues that the government must do whatever it can to make federal jobs more attractive to potential information technology workers, but the group stopped short of recommending a separate government IT pay scale.

The report recommends, among other things, that government leaders need to work harder to sell the virtues of government service to IT workers by using more visible marketing campaigns and more vigorous recruiting, including using the Internet. It also acknowledges that low government pay puts agencies at a disadvantage when recruiting and calls for government leaders to increase pay.

To improve pay, some federal IT managers have supported a separate pay scale for IT workers, which would help the government better compete with the private sector. The CIO Council found that the compensation for most entry-level programmers in industry is about $49,000, including bonuses, 401(k) matches and stock purchases. A recently hired government programmer cannot earn much more than $36,000.

But the CIO Council report did not recommend that a separate IT pay scale be created. "I can't say [a separate IT pay scale] isn't under consideration, but it's not a recommendation in this report," said the Agriculture Department's deputy chief information officer, Ira Hobbs, who was instrumental in the creation of the report. "I think you do have to address some of the issues of pay. Do we need a totally separate pay scale? I don't know."

The authors of the study argue that some compensation issues could be addressed through so-called "pay banding," also known as "broad banding." Pay banding would erase many of the regulated grades and step levels in each General Schedule level, creating instead broad salary ranges for each level. Pay banding, Hobbs said, would give managers the ability to bring people into new government jobs at higher pay than they normally would be offered. It "puts you in a position where you're almost able to negotiate pay" with prospective employees, he said.

Although the Office of Personnel Management has said it is working on legislation to institute broad banding, officials do not know when they will introduce it.

Fred Thompson, program manager for IT work force improvement in the Treasury Department's CIO's Office, said that OPM is "listening to us. We need to keep that dialogue open. They're looking to see if the whole job structure of the IT work force needs to be changed."

An OPM spokesman said the office "is aware of and moving forward on several issues related to the recruitment and retention of federal IT professionals. This is a complex area, one that we will continue to study. The committee's work will be useful as we move forward in the process."

Hobbs said that one key to attracting IT professionals to government is better recruitment marketing. The government needs to better sell the value of public service, he said, adding that many government employees work on projects that affect millions of people, an exciting endeavor and selling point.

Hobbs also said government is fairly liberal in the degree to which it lets people structure their work days and weeks, and he said that it should strive to be even more flexible. "Let's take a fresh approach to telecommuting," he said. "Let's say, 'Yeah, we have people coming in one day, two days a week.' "

Linda Wallace, chief of the Electronic Information Services Branch of the Internal Revenue Services' Multimedia Production Division, said the agency has had luck in the past year luring new IT workers and other recruits through the Internet. The department uses two commercial posting services to advertise jobs online, and it also advertises job openings on its own World Wide Web site.

The Internet also has enabled the IRS to advertise internationally at a minimum cost, Wallace said. One recent posting of jobs drew more than 600 responses.

One of the report's recommendations calls for a governmentwide indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract for online recruiting and marketing support. The report champions how some agencies, including the IRS, have been successful with online marketing, and it argues that a governmentwide IDIQ contract would "cut costs for all agencies, give them more timely applications and allow agencies to contact potential job applicants at sites."

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CIO Council's 13 recommendations

1. OPM and the CIO Council together should continue the study of IT occupational structure and pay.

2. OPM should extend past 2000 a delegated waiver authority to agencies to allow for recruitment and retention of IT professionals.

3. The CIO Council should support OPM's efforts to encourage the use of existing hiring flexibilities and the establishment of a critical-needs hiring authority.

4. A governmentwide indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract should be established for online recruiting and marketing support.

5. The CIO Council and other agencies should increase collaboration among federal agencies to upgrade IT skills of the current work force.

6. OPM should encourage federal agencies to recruit from nontraditional labor pools.

7. The government should come up with standard language that would require contractors installing information technology programs to train government workers in acquiring the skills necessary to run and manage the programs.

8. The Commerce Department, the CIO Council and OPM should jointly conduct an information and outreach campaign to encourage students to pursue IT careers.

9. The CIO Council, in partnership with key federal agencies and the private sector, should develop an IT career academy and curriculum for adoption by high schools nationwide.

10. A scholarship and internship program should be established for promising IT students in exchange for government service.

11. The CIO Council should encourage federal agencies to participate in regional, sector and occupational skills alliances.

12. The CIO Council should support a continuing work-force planning capability at OPM.

13. The CIO Council should continue to support the establishment of a virtual CIO university.

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