OPM drafts vision for work force

Hoping that it can help ease the squeeze of a tight information technology labor market on agencies, the Office of Personnel Management last month moved a step closer to revising the way the government structures and defines the work performed by its IT work force.

OPM last month released a draft list of new specialty job titles and job profiles for computer specialists and telecommunications workers in the federal government. The intent is to make it easier for agencies to attract and retain IT workers from outside the government and for agencies to specify the type of job they need filled.

"We're recognizing that there is a family of occupations that does IT," said Henry Romero, associate director of OPM's Workforce Compensation and Performance Service.

Most federal IT workers hold jobs in one of four occupational series or categories: computer specialist, telecommunications, computer engineering or computer science. But the qualifications listed for those jobs do not specify particular technical skills, such as managing a local-area network or a World Wide Web site. OPM wants to change the standards to resemble how the private sector structures job categories, which would help government better match salaries with specific jobs.

The OPM draft proposes new specialty titles, such as network services, Web development and information security, that more accurately describe IT work performed by the GS-334 computer specialist and GS-391 telecommunications series of jobs. Eventually, OPM will create a new IT specialist series, which will replace the computer specialist and telecommunications series.

Also, OPM detailed new job profiles that describe qualifications candidates would need to be considered for a particular IT position. The so-called competency-based job profile will identify the critical competencies, such as leadership and information assurance skills, required for positions at all levels. OPM will pilot this program next year.

Ira Hobbs, deputy chief information officer at the Agriculture Department, said the change will enable agencies to identify people by exactly what they do. "Now, we have a general standard that causes everybody to look the same even though there are differences," he said. "It helps you be specific, focused and narrow down what you're looking for."

However, reconsidering how IT workers are paid should be a part of the equation, Hobbs said. "We have to look very carefully at pay," he said. "I think we'll see industrywide [that] some of these jobs pay more than others, and we need to be careful of that. From a federal perspective, pay impacts recruitment and retention."

The draft memo is an important first step, said Fred Thompson, program manager for the Information Technology Workforce Improvement Program at the Treasury Department. It sets framework for how occupations are structured, he said. The next step will be to classify jobs at different grade levels.

The proposed changes should make it easier for employees as well. "My business card says Webmaster, but my official title is systems application specialist," said Marilyn Knapp Litt, who works at the Railroad Retirement Board. "I don't know what that is. It is hard to establish credibility when your introduction is an explanation that you don't really do what the paperwork says you do."

The draft will be available at www.opm.gov/fedclass/html/draft.htm.

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