Government Boosts Pay for Half Its IT Workers

The U.S. federal government next year will increase the salaries of nearly half its information technology workers by up to 33 percent - a move intended to improve the government's ability to recruit and retain employees. But while it may help make government service more attractive, it won't solve the government's IT labor hiring problems, according to federal employees.

In January, 33,000 federal IT professionals will receive pay increases ranging from 7 percent to 33 percent, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) said earlier this month. The OPM said it hopes the pay increases will serve as a "shot of adrenaline" to boost IT hiring.

Within Range

The new salary schedule "does put us in the range of being able to attract some talented people," said Fred Thompson, program manager for IT workforce improvement at the U.S. Department of the Treasury. "[But] I don't think we're outpricing or outbidding anybody."

Federal government salaries conform to a schedule that adjusts pay based on the cost of living in different regions. For example, in the Washington area, a person just out of college without specialized skills is often limited to the entry-level GS-5 salary range, with a maximum level of about US$31,000.

But with the pay raises, which are weighted to give the largest increase to entry-level salaries, federal agencies can now offer about $40,000 in the Washington area, said Thompson. A GS-5 in San Francisco could earn as much as $43,000.

For young, bright people who are willing to take a risk, "I really don't think a 7 percent to 33 percent increase in salaries is going to make all that much difference," said Ray Bjorklund, an analyst at consultancy Federal Sources Inc. in McLean, Va. "There are agencies that try to hire people right out of college, but they can't keep them."

But pay isn't be the only factor the federal government may have to address.

"Money is not the issue," said Charles McMillan, a networking expert in the U.S. State Department's Foreign Service division, in an e-mail. "The real heartburn that I have is that the State Department is outsourcing all of the interesting IT jobs and making the government employees managers. I have to fight on a daily basis to maintain some technical contact with my job."

The State Department has begun using contractors to design LANs and WANs, said McMillan. The pay hikes may entice people who are on the fence about quitting or staying, but "what is needed is for those of us with the technical abilities to be allowed to engineer the changes that are happening in our work place. Job satisfaction is the key issue with many of us," he wrote.

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