Mixed bag on IT reclassification

Almost a year after it was released, a new job family standard designed to bring the job descriptions and titles for information technology workers in the government into alignment with the private sector has had little effect on most of those workers.

The new GS-2200 job family — released by the Office of Personnel Management in June 2001 after an exhaustive design process — includes the GS-2210 IT specialist series, which replaces the GS-0334 computer specialist series.

As of December 2001, the most recent date for which numbers are available, only about 10 percent of the 60,283 total employees who were classified under the old series had been converted to the new series, according to federal employment data published quarterly by OPM.

The decade-old GS-0334 series classified all of the employees it covered as "computer specialists," a confusingly general grouping. The new GS-2210 series includes 10 "parenthetical specialty titles," such as network services, applications software and systems administration, which are intended to help agencies better define IT jobs.

However, reclassifying employees under the new specialties requires a time-consuming cataloging of the tasks individuals classified under the old series now perform, federal IT executives and other experts say.

In the Office of the Chief Information Officer for the Commerce Department, for example, "we're [reorganizing] our entire organization — realigning people, removing layers of management and trying to stay in line with the direction of the [Bush] administration," said Karen Hogan, Commerce's deputy CIO. "Ultimately, we will also be rewriting and reclassifying job standards, but we haven't done that yet, because of all these other things."

Some experts also blame the reclassification lag on the government's diversion of its IT workers into information security in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Reclassifying thousands of federal IT workers to another, more complex job family "is a major undertaking," said Rich D'Adamo, president of Workforce Solutions Inc. and formerly project leader for OPM's IT occupational study, which culminated in the new standards. "Agency IT and [human resources] offices are generally understaffed, and on the IT side, there's a lot of effort being devoted to cybersecurity."

Federal IT professionals are frustrated by the lag, however.

"For more than a year, the Air Force Personnel Center has had the GS-2200 series on their list of coming attractions," wrote Allan Emerson, systems administrator for the 27th Contracting Squadron at Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico, in an e-mail message to Federal Computer Week. "Inquiries as to the progress have been vague, and any dates they have provided all have come and gone. The information they're giving me is smoke and mirrors."

The lack of widespread reclassification also appears to have a negative effect on agencies' ability to recruit the right people for jobs in the IT field.

"Most of the people we talk to who would be interested in the feds don't have any change in perception" because of the new job family, said Dave Tittle, president of Paul-Tittle Search Group, an executive search firm with government clients. "They may see changes in the title, but in many cases, you don't even see that."

The hardest part of reclassification, CIOs say, is deciding who belongs in the new series and who doesn't. Although many employees have IT-related duties and responsibilities, not all of them will fall under the guidelines OPM issued last year governing reclassification.

In addition, the guidelines didn't set what Judy Davis, chief of OPM's Classification Programs Division, called "hard and fast rules" about when agencies must complete their reclassifications. "We said agencies should apply the newly issued standards within a reasonable period of time as determined by [the] agency," she said.

There is a bright side to the reclassification issue, however. For those agencies that have converted to the new standard, the response is overwhelmingly positive.

The State Department recently used the new standards in evaluating candidates who applied for 103 IT job openings via the "virtual" online IT job fair held in late April. The new standards "really identify the individuals who have the skills you need," said Manuela Paninski, director of the human resource office in State's Bureau of Information Resource Management.

Linda Massaro, CIO of the National Science Foundation, has reclassified the 65 IT professionals who report to her and has also used the standards for NSF's new electronic recruiting system. The new job family "has fit really well with that," she said.

Cooperation between an agency's human resources managers and IT managers is crucial to making a reclassification effort work, D'Adamo said.

Carl Staton, the new CIO of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said his agency converted to the new standards without a hitch.

"We had a very good relationship with our personnel-servicing agencies," he said. "We worked closely with them."


Where do you fit in?

The GS-2210 job series, released a year ago, was designed to bring to the federal government the diversity of positions and titles held by information technology workers in the private sector. The standard establishes 10 specialty titles for IT work, along with descriptions of the jobs and the knowledge and skills necessary to perform them.

The specialties are:

* Applications software.

* Customer support.

* Data management.

* Internet.

* Network services.

* Operating systems.

* Policy and planning.

* Security.

* Systems administration.

* Systems analysis.


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