Pay raise spells trouble

The Office of Personnel Management has established higher rates of basic pay for certain information technology professionals in government. While this sounds like a good move on the surface, I'm concerned it may cause more harm than good.

OPM's 7 percent to 33 percent pay raise applies to all computer specialists, computer engineers and computer scientists at grades GS-5 through GS-12. OPM says the pay hike addresses significant problems in recruiting IT workers in today's highly competitive labor market. The higher rates of pay took effect Jan. 1 and involve about 33,000 current federal employees.

OPM determined that the most severe IT staffing problems are found at the entry-level grades. General Schedule salaries lag far behind non-federal salaries at these grades. In addition, agencies report that their problems staffing entry-level jobs likely will increase significantly as agencies try to replace a growing number of retiring IT workers.

"The pay increase is a shot of adrenaline that will ensure departments and agencies of the federal government can attract high-quality, high-tech individuals who will have an immediate and a lasting impact on the business of government," said OPM Director Janice Lachance.

The American Federation of Government Employees doesn't object to the IT salary increases, but it is upset that other feds won't get similar raises.

AFGE's point is well taken. While it's clear the raises are good news for IT employees, other feds doing important work will resent the move. This could create a hostile work environment for IT employees. Keep in mind that program people don't have a high regard for IT people — they think IT personnel never get the system to work as it should.

Meanwhile, IT personnel believe program people don't know what they want. The two camps are always bickering. So how can a program person not be upset knowing that his or her IT counterpart makes 25 percent more money?

I'm not sure there's a solution, but it's clear that giving IT workers a pay raise opened a can of worms. OPM is saying government will pay more for IT people because agencies need the best and the brightest, but this sends a message that other categories of employees aren't valued as highly. In trying to attract more IT people to government, OPM has created a second problem.

Of course, the answer isn't giving everyone a pay raise: The government can't afford it and it may not be necessary. But that's what OPM appears to be saying, though it certainly won't acquiesce to other feds seeking raises.

A better approach would have been relaxing the classification standards for IT workers so they'd qualify for higher-grade jobs. If handled discreetly, other feds might not be aware of what is going on. OPM's "in-your-face" approach is crude and will have negative reverberations.

Zall is a retired federal employee who since 1987 has written the Bureaucratus column for Federal Computer Week. He can be reached at miltzall@starpower.net.

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