Budget funds benefits, IT training programs

Top government officials are praising President Clinton's fiscal 2001 budget, which improves the overall compensation and benefits package for federal employees and gives significant support to various high-technology training and recruiting programs.

"This is not a good budget for federal workers and their families, this is a great budget," said Janice Lachance, director of the Office of Personnel Management, in a speech on Monday.

Federal employees would, on average, receive an additional $2,658 a year thanks to new perks, including the ability to pay health insurance premiums with pre-tax dollars, a plan to give federal employees a 3.7 percent pay increase and the elimination of waiting periods for new and re-hired employees to join the Thrift Savings Program, which is the government's 401(k)-like retirement system.

In addition, this year OPM will design a prototype work force planning system that will enable managers to analyze their current work force and prepare what-if scenarios under different recruitment, restructuring or mission change scenarios.

"Through these proposals, we are molding the federal career of the 21st century, a career that will be recognized, rewarded and, I promise you, competitive with the best careers in the private sector," Lachance said.

However, for some, the proposals are not enough. The American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employee union, said it plans to lobby Congress for at least a 4.2 percent pay increase for 2001.

The budget also would provide funds to support high-tech training initiatives, including:

* $10 million for the Labor Department to train women in nontraditional jobs including high-tech jobs and other occupations suffering from a shortage of skilled workers.

* $10 million, to be administered by the National Science Foundation, for grants to tribal colleges for computer networking, course development, student assistance and capacity planning to encourage American Indians to pursue IT and other science and technology fields.

* $100 million to fund Community Technology Centers, an increase of $68 million compared with fiscal 2000. Grants are designed to help low income communities establish computer centers for those unable to afford home computers.

* $450 million for the Technology Literacy Challenge Fund, an increase of $25 million. This program provides grants to states to fund technology-related professional development, multimedia computers in schools, and software and Internet access for students.

* $150 million, double the fiscal 2000 level, to provide technology training for 400,000 teachers.

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