Make people matter

It was a holiday bonus of sorts, a better-late-than-never settlement for GS-11 computer specialists at the Veterans Health Administration.

Last month, the VHA agreed to compensate all 831 of its GS-11 computer specialists for overtime work and shelled out nearly $1 million in back pay dating back to Jan. 25, 1995. The VHA was responding to a grievance filed in the mid-1990s by the American Federation of Government Employees. In it, the union charged that computer specialists were covered under the Fair Labor Standards Act and therefore eligible for overtime pay.

The VHA settlement and a similar agreement in August with the Veterans Benefits Administration prompted the Department of Veterans Affairs to review all its previously exempt series 334 computer specialist positions. Managers at other agencies would be wise to follow the VA's example.

The basis for these grievances lies in simple paperwork errors that kept computer specialists from getting their due, denying them years of overtime pay. That's bad management, pure and simple, and it's even more damaging as the government struggles to recruit and retain qualified employees.

Federal information technology has become a key element in delivering public services and making government run more smoothly. IT workers shouldn't have to fight for the pay they deserve. The case took five years to sort out; there's no telling how many disgruntled workers bolted for civilian jobs in the interim.

To avoid future standoffs, managers must demonstrate more care for their employees. That means periodically reviewing the duties and responsibilities of every position they supervise and, when necessary, adjusting the job titles and descriptions to accurately reflect the scope of their employees' responsibilities.

That extra effort will go a long way toward showing federal employees that they matter and, when combined with the 2001 IT pay raises, might keep the federal IT workforce from cashing in on lucrative opportunities in the civilian job market.

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