Special rates not so special, and firing feds

A Reader Writes:

I have been a Bureaucratus reader since shortly after I started in civil service in 1988.

Maybe I missed it, but have you commented on the diminished specialness of special rates (which are tied to the non-locality pay rate) for information technology specialists (GS-2210) in areas also receiving locality pay? By next January's cost-of-living adjustment, I expect that we will be reverted to the regular locality pay when it becomes greater than our special rate.

Milt Replies:

Here's how special rates work:

Special salary rates apply to federal workers employed in positions that the government considers difficult to fill. Each year, the Office of Personnel Management and agencies employing special-rate employees conduct a review to determine the amount by which special rates will be adjusted at the time of a general increase in General Schedule rates.

To increase special rates by an amount equal to the GS rates, agencies must review their staffing situation and certify that the increased rates are needed to ensure adequate staffing. Special rate employees get the higher of their special rate or the GS locality pay rate.

A Reader Writes:

Is there any chance Congress will ever improve the ability of federal managers to discipline or fire nonviable employees? While I applaud, in principle, worker protections that prevent unfair or arbitrary personnel actions, it's virtually impossible to fire someone in the federal government.

Ask any manager if there is an employee under their supervision who has a long history of poor performance, and I guarantee the answer will be "Yes!" At best, federal managers can hope to transfer their problem to another office when all routine disciplinary actions fail.

As the government gets leaner and leaner, these nonfunctioning or barely functioning employees pose an ever-increasing burden on employees who are driving themselves into the ground to meet their work requirements with fewer and fewer resources.

And by the way, has anyone noticed that Computer Sciences Corp., Booz Allen Hamilton and other contractors seem to own the federal government? And are we absolutely certain that the computer specialist who has her hands in our most sensitive systems is really a U.S. citizen with a proper security clearance?

Milt Replies:

It is indeed difficult to fire a federal employee. The reason for this is that at one time, there was concern that government managers would fire qualified employees and replace them with cronies. Unfortunately, the safeguards that were put in place to prevent such behavior went too far and now we have the situation that you describe. It is unlikely that the situation will change.

A Reader Writes:

Hey Milt, regarding the advice you gave the active duty military IT fellow regarding looking for work: I suggest that his/her best bet would be to subscribe to USAJobs by e-mail at the Web site profiler.usajobs.opm.gov.

By doing that, he/she would get a daily look at what jobs are opening in the location where he/she might want to live, as well as what the specifications for the jobs are. I think that would be much better than trying to reach someone at OPM.

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

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