OPM Looks at Ways to Handle Pay for Technology Employees

Thursday, January 6, 2005; Page B02

For some of the government's technology employees, those "special rates" don't seem so special anymore.

The 2005 pay tables seem to suggest that the earnings of some federal high-tech workers are not keeping pace with that of other federal employees. The government offers special rates -- or higher pay -- in certain fields, such as technology and law enforcement, when agencies find it difficult to fill jobs.

But some federal high-tech workers don't think the 2005 pay tables add up. For example, the tables show a special rate salary range of $62,354 to $81,057 for General Schedule 12 technology employees in the Washington area. The rate for a rank-and-file GS-12 employee is a few hundred dollars higher, ranging from $62,886 to $81,747.

"What kind of math is this?" asked an information technology specialist at the National Park Service.

Added an Agriculture Department technology specialist, "Obviously, I do not want to be labeled as 'special' if this is the case."

The pay tables, however, do not tell the whole story.

Under law, when locality pay adjustments boost GS rates above special rates, employees get paid at the higher rate. That means that technology employees will have their pay go up at least 2.5 percent, but many will receive a higher raise, based on the pay rate for their area. In Washington, the 2005 raise is 3.71 percent.

The confusion began in 2001, when about 33,000 of the government's 64,000 technology employees were moved to a special pay rate table. Most were in grades 5 through 12 and got raises ranging from 7 percent to 33 percent, with employees at lower grades receiving the largest raises.

Prior to that year, numerous federal agencies reported difficulty in recruiting and retaining technology employees. With jobs hard to fill, the Office of Personnel Management authorized the use of special rates to keep the government competitive in the labor market.

But the competition appears less sharp. A recent study by the Information Technology Association of America found minimal demand for technology workers in the private sector last year. Still, some agencies are eager to retain or expand their technology staffs because they are upgrading equipment and addressing cyber security issues.

A memo from OPM Director Kay Coles James to agency personnel chiefs last month noted that "various options" had been discussed on how to handle pay for technology employees in 2005 but indicated that no consensus approach emerged, in part because not enough data were available.

James opted for a 2.5 percent raise in the special rates, the same increase in base pay provided GS employees.

In the memo, she said "a strategic analysis of [information technology] special rates remains an important task. I have directed my staff to continue with the planned work to collect information related to the recruitment, retention and pay of IT employees."

Collins Retains Federal Oversight

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) will return to chair the Senate committee that oversees federal pay and benefits. The panel has been renamed the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, her office announced.

Collins, who took charge of the committee in 2003, said she will work to improve operations at the Department of Homeland Security and will investigate how terrorists obtain money for their attacks and activities.

In her statement, Collins also said she plans to probe wasteful federal spending, enhance federal employee benefits, "modernize" the Postal Service and investigate the oil-for-food program run by the United Nations.

Talk Shows

Witold Skwierczynski, president of the National Social Security Council, American Federation of Government Employees, will be the guest on "FEDtalk" at 11 a.m. tomorrow on federalnewsradio.com.

Andrew von Eschenbach, director of the National Cancer Institute, will be the guest on the "IBM Business of Government Hour" at 9 a.m. Saturday on WJFK radio (106.7 FM).

"Thank President Bush for the Pay Raise?" will be the topic for discussion on the Imagene B. Stewart call-in program at 8 a.m. Sunday on WOL radio (1450 AM).

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