OPM defines IT jobs

The Office of Personnel Management earlier this month released a new job family standard and modern job abstracts and titles for information technology workers in government.

The Office of Personnel Management earlier this month released a new job family standard and modern job descriptions and titles for information technology workers in government. Now comes the hard part: determining who belongs in the new group. The GS-2200 job family so far has only one job series in it, the GS-2010 IT specialist series, which will replace the GS-0334 computer specialist series.

There are other employees, however, who have IT-related duties and responsibilities and are not computer specialists. Agencies must use the OPM guidelines to help decide just who among them should be reclassified.

In some cases, the "decision may be gray at best," OPM officials said in the guidelines. In particular, many positions placed in the "catch-all" miscellaneous administration and program (GS-0301) series may now be properly covered by the IT specialist (GS-2210) series, according to the guidelines.

To determine who should be reclas.sified, OPM officials told agencies to first "determine the paramount knowledge" of the position — that is, the most important subject-matter knowledge required to perform the primary duties of the position. The new IT specialist series covers positions where the paramount requirement is knowledge of IT principles, concepts and methods.

According to the guidelines, as officials determine paramount knowledge, they "must also consider the primary purpose for the position's existence, the most important qualification(s) required, recruitment sources, career progression and the background knowledge required."

The new IT specialist series covers two-grade interval administrative positions, but not support positions such as the computer clerk and assistant series (GS-0335). It also covers administrative positions but not professional positions such as the computer science series (GS-1550), OPM officials said.

Reclassification presents challenges. "I think it could be kind of tricky," said Karen Hogan, acting deputy chief information officer at the Commerce Department, "particularly in areas where we hired people with professional expertise, like a geographer whose job [has] evolved into doing a lot of computer work. Not just using the computer to do the work but actual programming."

Some employees may clamor to join the new series, particularly to qualify for the special IT pay rates, but others may object to having a new job identity, Hogan said. The agency will reclassify employees on a case-by-case basis, she said.

Agencies are responsible for ensuring that jobs are described properly and that they fit the duties an employee is assigned, said Henry Romero, a former OPM official and now a human resources manager for San Diego County. Agency managers decide what work they want to assign to people and how to describe it, and the human resources department makes the classification using OPM standards, he said.

"It's very often political," Romero said. "It's a management/political problem. How do we describe the work our people do?" In some cases, it's easier to use a broad job description, such as IT specialist, rather than a specific job description, such as information security specialist because it gives managers more flexibility in the duties they can assign, he said.

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