Feds Consider Upping Pay for IT Workers

FRAMINGHAM (04/21/2000) - Federal officials are taking a hard look at increasing the pay rates for information technology employees in order to stay competitive with the private sector.

The need will be especially acute as federal worker retirements mushroom during the next few years.

The Chief Information Officers Council is conducting a study with the National Academy of Public Administration to determine whether pay scales should be permanently increased for federal IT workers.

"If we don't do something soon, we're going to be in more [of a] crisis than we're in now," said Gloria Parker, CIO at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

A separate study by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is examining whether there should be a temporary increase in federal IT worker salaries. The government has already increased salaries of highly skilled occupations, such as medical officers, to compete with the private sector.

Federal agencies are reporting numerous unfilled IT positions. They're hardly alone; the Information Technology Association of America in Arlington, Virginia, estimated that U.S. companies will be able to hire only half of the 1.6 million IT workers needed this year. But the federal government faces unique problems.

Starting wages run from $23,000 to $35,000 per year, a range considered well behind salaries paid to entry-level IT professionals in the private sector.

Government agencies can't offer stock options. And though agencies can offer retention bonuses, they often don't have the money to do so.

However, the most pressing problem, concerns age. Roughly half of the nearly 70,000 current federal IT workers will be eligible for retirement by 2006.

The study could lead to salary scale increases of as much as 30%, said Henry Romero, an associate director at the OPM. The study should be completed by the end of the year, he said.

But federal agencies are trying to do more than increase salaries. There is legislation pending in Congress that would pay the cost of academic degrees for federal employees, along with licenses and certificates.

Private-sector employers are finding that base pay is becoming less important to IT workers, said Rick Distasio, a vice president at Compaq Federal LLC, a unit of Houston-based Compaq Computer Corp. that works with the federal government.

More important now, said Distasio, are annual stock and cash-based incentives.

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