OPM details IT pay raise

The Office of Personnel Management has issued a draft salary table for computer specialists, computer engineers and computer science specialists in the GS-5 through GS-12 grades. The table lays out for the first time the actual dollar amounts that those information technology workers will receive starting Jan. 1.

OPM released the details Dec. 1 on how much of a pay increase certain federal IT workers will receive next year.

OPM had announced Nov. 3 that it would give about 33,000 IT workers raises ranging from 7 percent to 33 percent in an effort to attract technology workers to the government and retain them. Agencies are increasingly competing with industry for skilled workers — particularly at entry-level positions — and a pay hike is one way to help government compete for the best and brightest.

OPM said it will establish six special IT salary-rate schedules, each covering a group of geographic areas. One of the six schedules will apply to all locations outside the contiguous United States. So salaries will vary depending on where IT employees work as well as what grade — and step within a grade — they attain.

For example, an entry-level salary for a GS-5 IT worker living in the Washington, D.C., area is $30,726, based on the draft figures for IT workers covered by the special salary-rate schedules. Meanwhile, an entry-level GS-5 IT worker living in New York would make $31,823.

By comparison, an entry-level GS-5 worker living in the Washington, D.C., area who is not covered by a special salary rate would receive $24,192 next year, and in New York he or she would receive $24,936.

Although many people welcome the pay raise, some federal workers on the higher end of the scale are feeling left out. Mark Bridges, a GS-13 Step 5 computer scientist working for the Navy, said it is disconcerting to know that according to the special salary rate table, he would make more if he were a GS-12 Step 8. Bridges said he is one of many who is performing technical work — as opposed to managerial work — at the GS-13 level.

"I'm curious to know why the compensation stops at the GS-12 level," he said. "Is the assumption that those at a GS-13 level should be in management or are less likely to leave their position after that much time in the system?"

Even workers not covered under a special salary schedule can expect a raise next year — although not as dramatic. Federal civilian employees will receive an average pay hike of 3.7 percent starting in January. All raises will become official when President Clinton signs an executive order implementing the 2001 pay increase.

Some critics say even more should be done. The special IT pay rates are a step in the right direction, but "special rates are only a partial solution, even for IT workers," said Bobby Harnage, national president for the American Federation of Government Employees. High health insurance costs for federal workers are a deterrent, he said. He also maintained that all federal workers — not just IT workers — are underpaid compared with their private-sector counterparts.

"By limiting next year's raise to a 2.7 percent nationwide increase and a 1 percent locality adjustment, [Clinton] has assured that the federal government will be an employer of last resort for the best and brightest," Harnage said.

To see what you would receive based on your grade, step and where you live, go to www.opm.gov/oca/compmemo/2000/2000-13.htm.

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