Flexing in the face of competition
- By Colleen O'Hara
- May 08, 2000
Changes to how agencies recruit and retain workers are essential if the
government is to remain competitive, congressional and agency officials
said last week.
Greater flexibility and bigger budgets to recruit and retain workers — especially information technology workers — will make it easier for agencies
to find and keep the right people in today's tight labor market, said NASA Inspector
General Roberta Gross, testifying at a Senate hearing.
For example, Gross said she would like the ability to conduct pay banding,
which would enable NASA to offer a range of salaries to high-performing
employees within a certain level, such as GS-11. The Office of Personnel
Management is developing legislation to give agencies authority to design
a pay banding system.
In addition, the government's lengthy hiring process means that agencies
are losing potential candidates, Gross said. IT security, criminal investigators
and auditors are particularly in high demand, but often take months to hire.
NASA's Computer Crime Division is staffed with skilled employees, particularly
because NASA offers higher grades and salaries under federal personnel guidelines,
Gross said. But "we have lost potential candidates and some on-board staff
to the lure of the private sector, with its higher salaries, more lucrative
benefits and greater flexibility to balance work and private life," Gross
said in her testimony before the Senate Oversight of Government Management,
Restructuring and the District of Columbia Subcommittee.
As computer crime increases, so will the demands for more resources, such
as more people, more training and sophisticated hardware, Gross said. "All
of these efforts will cost more money," she said. If these resources are
not provided, "we will inevitably lose more ground to the malicious and
criminal side of the information technology world."
More money would go a long way in helping agencies deal with the recruitment
and retention problem and encourage agencies to use incentives such as recruitment
bonuses and retention allowances more often. NASA's Office of Inspector
General has $75,000 in bonuses to spread across 200 people, which is not
enough, Gross said.
In general, agencies do not use incentives often, said Henry Romero,
associate director for work force compensation and performance at the Office
of Personnel Management. However, OPM is looking at making the use of incentives
more flexible to encourage agencies to use them, he said.
Agencies are partly to blame for not making work force issues a budget
priority, said Michael Brostek, associate director for federal management
and work force issues at the General Accounting Office's General Government
Division. Agencies should assess how well their current system is working,
he said. "How often [have you] seen in a budget submission that they need
more money to offer retention bonuses?" Brostek asked at the hearing. "Agencies
have frequently not included analysis on what they need" to recruit and
Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), chairman of the subcommittee, asked OPM
to look into what changes could be made to future budgets so that requirements
such as incentive and training programs are given the attention they need.
By 2004, 32 percent of federal employees will be eligible for regular
retirement, and 21 percent more will be eligible for early retirement, Voinovich
said in his testimony. And, as the baby boomers leave government, it will
be increasingly harder to hire skilled IT workers. "This will require a
much greater investment in pay and benefits than federal employees currently
receive, if the government hopes to compete with the private sector," he
But the most important step to attract and keep workers might be to
fully implement the 1994 Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act (FEPCA),
which called for closing the public/private pay gap in 10 years, testified
Colleen Kelley, national president of the National Treasury Employees Union.
Public pay lags far behind private pay for similar work, she said.
"Frankly, a decision to fully implement FEPCA would do more to address
recruitment and retention in the federal government than all remaining incentive
programs combined," Kelley said.
The law also authorized several other programs geared toward helping
agencies recruit and retain employees, including a provision to offer retention
allowances of up to 25 percent and one-time recruitment bonuses of up to
25 percent of base pay.
However, Kelley agreed that budgetary constraints and prolonged hiring
freezes are the main reasons agencies are not taking advantage of the tools
available to them. "Until Congress provides adequate discretionary funding
to federal agencies, these problems will remain," she said.
Financial incentives alone will not make government a competitive employer,
Kelley said. Agencies will need realistic pay rates, competitive retirement
and health benefits and private-sector compensation practices. "While we
continue to believe that salary remains the most effective tool in attracting
quality employees, family-friendly incentives" such as child care facilities
and telecommuting options "have proven effective," she said.