It’s no secret that most tech jobs will be hard to snare for the remainder of 2001 and well into 2002. But you may be surprised to learn that the federal government has been an untapped source for IT jobs in many of its 100 or so agencies.

Searching for government jobs has always been a last resort for IT professionals, and for good reasons. For starters, the application process has been known to take months before the required masses of paperwork could be processed. Applicants that made it to the interview stage had to overcome miles of red tape before they passed muster. Worse still, the government’s technology was years behind private industry. And, so were salaries. It’s no wonder government jobs have never been on most job candidates’ radar screens.

Until recently, most of the government IT jobs revolved around working in a mainframe environment, according to Michael Orenstein, spokesperson for the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) in Washington, D.C. But in an effort to attract technical workers, the government has updated its standards by reclassifying the specifications of all tech jobs.

All government tech jobs fall under three broad job categories:

  • Computer scientist
  • Computer engineer
  • IT specialist

Under each classification, there are a multitude of specific job titles. If you’ve been looking for a new position, the improvements that the government has made in the hiring process, as well as in pay and benefits, could open the door to a new set of options for you.

Changes in the hiring process
In the past, applying for any government job was a frustrating experience. First, your resume was screened by OPM before it was sent to the hiring agency. If your resume was deemed worthy, you could then wait months before being summoned for an interview at the agency that had posted the open position.

“Government clearances could take several months,” said Mark Anthony, director of career services at Indiana University of Pennsylvania in Indiana, PA. “Now, many agencies have direct hiring authority, which simplifies the whole process.”

Orenstein added, “The entire hiring process now takes a few weeks at most and as little as a few days, depending upon demand.”

Pay and benefits
The federal government is trying to upgrade its image and be competitive, but although it has loosened up, don’t expect it to be bureaucracy-free. It will always use its own language (Govspeak) to define job titles and pay scales. Salary grades, for example, are determined by the General Schedule (GS) scale, which ranges from GS-1 through GS-15. The higher the grade, the more you earn.

“Most tech salaries begin at GS-5 or above,” Orenstein said. An entry-level IT job for a recent college grad may pay $22,000, but a job requiring advanced skills and several years of experience may pay $57,000-$88,000 (which could qualify as a GS-13 or GS-14, if you’re curious).

Wayne Wallace, director of the career resource center at the University of Florida at Gainesville, said government salaries are about 20 percent less than private industry salaries. But Wallace did point to the government’s “locality pay,” which he said the government “has used as an inducement for several years.”

Salaries are adjusted to the cost of living in the location to which you’re assigned. You’ll be paid more if you work in San Francisco (ranked as one of the most expensive cities in the United States) than you would if you’re working in Dayton, OH.

The government also provides opportunities to relocate, because it has agencies in every state. “Many of [these agencies] are in very desirable cities,” Wallace said.

Another attractive inducement are sign-on bonuses (the government calls them “recruitment bonuses”).“The bonuses vary according to the agency,” Orenstein added. “An agency can pay up to $10,000 without OPM approval.”

“Federal government technology jobs are finally mirroring the private sector,” said Anthony. “That’s the only way it will recruit good people.”

Consider the possibility of working for a high-profile agency like the FBI, CIA, or NASA. You won’t get rich, but it will certainly be one of the more secure jobs you’ll find in this economy. You’ll find out what it’s like to work for the government, which could be an interesting experience. Whether you stay for a few years or use it as a short-term, interim job, it will look great on your resume. Who’s to say you won’t enjoy it and stay?

To learn more about tech jobs in the federal government, go to the OPM’s USAJOBS Web site.

Have you worked for the federal government?

Are job opportunities and salaries getting better in this sector? If you’ve worked for the government previously, would you go back? Send us an e-mail and share your experiences and opinions with us.