Agencies fill IT pay gaps

The pay raise that kicked in Jan. 1 for many federal information technology workers left out employees in some agencies, such as the Federal Aviation Administration.

Even so, agency officials said those employees still fare well by government IT standards.

The Office of Personnel Management gave pay hikes ranging from 7 percent to 33 percent to computer specialists, computer engineers and computer science specialists in the GS-5 through GS-12 pay grades.

But not all IT workers in the three job classifications automatically received the raise. At the FAA, for example, 1,572 IT workers were not eligible for the raise because the agency operates under separate acquisition and personnel reforms designed to improve agency performance.

After the FAA compensation committee reviewed IT salaries, the agency determined that its IT salaries were already competitive, said Daniel Mehan, the FAA's chief information officer. "It was looked at thoughtfully," Mehan said. "Our pay scales are market based."

FAA officials believe the market data OPM used to create its special salary rates is already reflected in the FAA's IT pay scales, Mehan said. "It's important for us to do right; if we're wrong, we'll see them go," he said.

In some cases, FAA IT workers may do better than their peers who are eligible for the OPM special IT salary rates. For instance, a GS-5 computer specialist living in Washington, D.C., receives $30,726 as an entry-level salary. A similar FAA specialist starts at $35,100, not including a locality increase of 10.23 percent.

The FAA is not alone in re-evaluating what it pays its IT workers. IT employees who participate in so-called demonstration proj-ects, which give agencies more flexibility in hiring and paying workers, do not automatically receive the raise either.

That didn't stop officials at the Treasury Department, however, from applying the new salary rates so they wouldn't risk losing valuable IT workers because of a perceived inequity. About 250 scientific, engineering and technical employees participate in Treasury's banded pay project that started a year ago. Of those, 23 are covered by the special rates.

Treasury is providing a supplement to those 23 workers that will rival the special IT rates, said Lee Hall, project manager for the Treas-ury demonstration proj-ect. "We didn't want all of the sudden our people jumping ship and going to other federal agencies because they could make more money there. We have to remain competitive."

The project involves collapsing the General Schedule into four pay bands in which employees receive pay increases based on performance reviews. Promotion to the next band is applied when a worker moves to higher-level work.

Other agencies also operating demonstration projects gave their IT workers the raise. Those agencies include offices in the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service and in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The General Accounting Office, which has employees under the General Schedule and banded systems, also applied the special rates.

Workers in the Defense Department's acquisition workforce demonstration proj-ect, however, were left out of the IT raise. That project ties salary to a person's contribution to the organization, said Anthony Echols, program manager for the proj-ect, and law prohibits DOD from applying special rates to demonstration projects.

Still, Echols noted that good performers may fare better under the demonstration project because "em-ployees' pay could be increased based on their contribution," he said.

Echols has asked the leaders of components participating in the project to review and evaluate how their IT workers are paid to ensure that it is competitive.

Not everyone is satisfied. At least one supervisory computer specialist in the DOD workforce demonstration said she could be making thousands of dollars more if she were operating under the old GS system. "There's nothing guaranteed under pay banding," she said.How IT workers at the FAA fare

Base salaries for Federal Aviation Administration nonsupervisory computer specialists, computer engineers and computer science specialists range from $35,100 to $117,700, depending on which of the five pay levels an employee is in.

Base salaries for IT employees in levels 1 and 2 — which are comparable to the grade levels covered by the Office of Personnel Management special salary rates — range from $35,100 to $66,200. These don't include additional locality pay, which ranges from 7.68 percent to 16.98 percent.

When hiring employees, managers can set pay anywhere within the pay range, depending on the candidate's qualifications and experience.

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