IT workers to receive pay hike

Beginning in January, tens of thousands of information technology professionals

in the federal government will receive a pay raise, the Office of Personnel

Management announced Nov. 3.

The salary increase is an effort to attract IT workers to the federal

government and retain them. The government increasingly finds itself losing

out in competition with industry for talent in today's tight labor market.

The pay hike will range from 7 percent to 33 percent and will affect

about 33,000 federal workers who will be placed in a special salary schedule.

The raise affects all people in the computer specialist, computer engineer

and computer scientist occupations.

The lower grade levels will receive the higher increases because agencies

have more difficulty hiring people for entry-level positions than for higher-level

positions. Consequently, the special pay adjustments will affect federal

IT workers in the GS-5 through GS-12 grades. OPM hopes that by bringing

in new people, agencies will have a continuous stream of qualified workers

who will be able to fill senior positions later.

OPM will announce how the raises translate into dollars as soon as the

White House decides how it will apply the anticipated 3.7 percent across-the-board

increase for federal workers. The IT increase will be added to employees'

base pay.

OPM Director Janice Lachance said the raise provides "a shot of adrenaline"

to agencies struggling to attract skilled, high-tech employees. Better pay,

in combination with a strong benefits package, places the government on

a par with other employers, she said. The move should help attract recent

college graduates to government.

"We do know what kids coming out of four years of college are being

offered, and it's significantly more than what we've been able to offer,"

said Karen Hogan, acting deputy chief information officer at the Commerce

Department. "A little bit of raise on salary isn't enough difference to

make a hiring decision. [But] at the higher end of the [percentage] scale,

it will significantly help us to attract entry-level people."

Attracting younger, skilled workers should also help fill gaps that

will be left by aging IT workers leaving government. In March, 55 percent

of computer specialists, computer engineers and computer scientists were

45 or older. Only about 10 percent were under 35.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that it could

hire technical workers quicker when it was allowed to offer more competitive

salaries for certain positions, said Helen Wood, director of the Office

of Satellite Data Processing and Distribution at NOAA.

"If I offer a job and the pay is too low, I have to keep advertising

[that position] over and over," Wood said.

However, pay remains just one part of the problem. "There is a tightness

in the market which translates into shortages," Wood said. "Being able to

offer more competitive salaries will make a difference, but we need a larger

source of supply nationally."

The salary increases are long overdue, said one computer specialist

who asked not to be named. "The differences between federal salaries and

private-sector salaries for IT work have been especially large in certain

areas, such as the D.C. suburbs," he said.

However, the increases may not be enough. "If your goal is parity, federal

IT wages need [to be] raised about 15 percent," he said. "If your goal is

attracting top quality people, federal IT wages need [to be] raised about

35 percent."

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