Web extra: How the jobs stack up

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Here is a brief look at the pluses and minuses of being a federal information technology contractor compared with those of being a federal IT employee.

CONTRACTING JOBS
FEDERAL JOBS
JOB SECURITY
Most contracting jobs offer little job security. One federal IT contractor explains: “I can be fired any day at any time for almost any reason.”

* Feds rarely get fired or laid off.

* Job security is an advantage for fed employees seeking loans.

SALARIES
Many IT professionals say salaries at consulting firms are higher than federal salaries. Nevertheless, salaries vary on a case-by-case basis.

* Many IT feds are on higher pay scales than other feds. And some IT jobs offer recruitment bonuses worth up to one year’s salary. Because of these factors and the vagaries of individual situations, some IT contractors increase their salaries by becoming feds.

* Agencies belonging to the excepted service are exempt from civil service rules and can set their own pay scales, which are usually significantly higher than civil service pay scales. A list of excepted service agencies is posted at www.usajobs.opm.gov/EI6.asp.

* You can survey salaries by doing keyword searches for IT jobs on USAJobs.

BENEFITS
Many contractors receive valuable stock options that are unavailable to feds. However, the leave and benefit plans of most consulting firms are not as generous as those of the federal government. In addition, when professionals frequently move between employers, their pensions suffer.

* Each fed receives 13 to 26 days of vacation time annually, depending on years of service; four hours of sick time per pay period; 11 holidays; and a choice of excellent health insurance plans.

* Feds are covered by safe retirement plans.

TYPES OF PROJECTS
At many agencies, most technical IT work is done by on-site contractors. This means that IT professionals who are strictly interested in the technical aspects of projects and not their management or leadership aspects, are particularly suited to contracting. At many agencies, the IT staff oversees IT contractors, who do the majority of the technical work. This means that:

* IT professionals who are interested in project management and leadership positions are particularly suited to the federal sector.

* Training and work experience in project management or contract management and experience as a federal contractor are valued credentials for applicants for federal IT jobs.

FLEXIBILITY AND MOBILITY

Temp agencies and some contracting firms allow professionals to take unpaid leave between assignments.

On-site contractors who are unhappy at particular agencies can usually move to other agencies relatively easily and quickly.

To switch agencies, a fed must either land a new job, which can take months, or arrange a temporary detail, which usually requires less time and effort.
STATUS WITHIN ORGANIZATION
On-site federal contractors are barred from some agency meetings and events. Most feds share a strong esprit de corps and take pride in directly working for the public good.
ACCESS TO TRAINING
Contractors do not receive the training that federal employees receive. At many agencies, each employee receives several thousand dollars’ worth of training annually.
WORK SCHEDULES
Most on-site contractors cannot telecommute or work alternative work schedules. Many feds telecommute and/or work longer days in exchange for one day off every two weeks.
THE APPLICATION PROCESS
Consulting firms generally hire faster than the federal government. Federal agencies are streamlining the application process. Some agencies have reduced the entire hiring process to 45 days, which is comparable to the private sector.
Source: Lily Whiteman

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