A time for change

A panel of experts recommended last week that the government overhaul how it compensates information technology workers to help it effectively manage its $150 billion investment in IT.

The National Academy of Public Administration panel, in a final report, detailed a new management system for IT workers that would abolish across-the-board pay increases and instead link pay and compensation to performance and skills.

The system would also create a simplified four- level pay scale that would set federal IT salaries based on the going rates in the private sector. Federal managers would have more freedom to set salaries for IT workers within the new pay system and to award recruitment, retention and other bonuses.

The four-level pay scale is the basis for making the IT workforce more performance- and results- oriented. "If we're honest and serious about being results-oriented, how can we have across-the-board pay increases?" said Costis Toregas, chairman of the NAPA panel, speaking at the Interagency Resources Management Conference in Hershey, Pa.

The changes are needed, according to the panel, in part because of an aging federal IT workforce, a tight labor market, inadequate tools to motivate employees, a pay gap and an outmoded classification system.

"We've been running blind by treating all IT professionals as interchangeable," said Gloria Parker, co-chairwoman of the CIO Council's IT Workforce Committee. The NAPA report, she added, serves as a springboard for the committee because it "makes specific and far-reaching recommendations."

The changes will take time and are just a start, Toregas said. "I'm convinced it will be a long-term solution," he said. "It's not something that will happen tomorrow morning."

The keys to success are communication, support from the Bush administration and the IT workforce itself, Toregas said. In fact, about 80 percent of what the panel proposes has already been implemented somewhere in government, but agencies are not sharing their experiences or may not know what's available, he said.

Some changes may require legislation—if only to make people understand that they already have the authority to use certain flexibilities, according to officials. "There may be a need for legislation to put those flexibilities in statute to make them clear to everyone," said G. Edward DeSeve, NAPA panel member and managing partner with American Government Management. Pay is an important piece of the NAPA recommendations. A four-level pay system would provide broad pay ranges associated with each level. The four levels are linked to a GS level (see box, top). Federal pay ranges would be determined by studying the salaries of similar positions in the private sector.

The proposed pay system may seem too simple, Toregas said, but "sometimes simplicity is what we need, because with simplicity comes flexibility." Current IT employees could opt out of the new compensation system, he said.

Although there will be upfront costs to cover higher salaries and training, the long-term results will be well worth it, Toregas said.

The panel also recommended creating a framework that identifies the competencies required by IT specialty at each level. And it would provide clear career development guidelines for IT professionals. Also, under the new system, an IT worker would not have to accept a management position in order to receive higher pay. "Doing IT and managing IT are two separate things, and we have to accept that," Toregas said.

Pay isn't the only change that's addressed. The NAPA panel also made nine other recommendations, such as: improving the recruiting and hiring process; offering competitive benefits; promoting work/life balance programs; and supporting technical currency and continuous learning.


Pay purposes

The new market-based pay system recommended by the NAPA panel would:

* Reward and compensate federal IT workers based on performance and competencies

rather than time served.

* Pay IT workers base salaries that are within the competitive ranges.

* Allow managers in most cases to set starting pay anywhere within

a pay level.

* Provide varied bonus options.

* Provide flexible benefits with pre-tax dollars.

* Avoid a separate pay level for managers and nonmanagers.


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