Like most employers, the federal government grapples with the problems of retaining technical workers. In an effort to reduce the number of IT pros who leave for more lucrative private sector jobs, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has announced plans to raise salaries for federal technology workers.

But when many TechRepublic members shared their opinions on this issue, they told us that they’re skeptical about the plan. Many also recommended that the government improve the work environment for federal IT workers.

Sounding off on the military
Most of the mail we received came from current or former IT workers in the armed services. Charley McGee’s e-mail was typical of the reactions by many TechRepublic members. McGee worked with computers in the U.S. Marine Corps where many of his living expenses were paid for. He received free housing, free health insurance, and 30 days of paid vacation. Despite all of the military perks, the package still fell short.

“When I did the math, even including all those things, the military didn’t get close to what I could make in the private sector,” McGee wrote.

Tony Strother, an Army retiree, is doubtful that the military will come close to matching the salary and benefits in the civilian world.

“They [the military] are in the ‘defense/soldier business,’ not the ‘keep up with the Jones’ business.’ The latest attempt of the OPM to adjust tech pays will fail as well; it is just too expensive. They have always found it easier to rehire or consolidate positions than to be equitable.”

While most members were highly critical of the military, one letter offered a different viewpoint. TechRepublic member Ed Collins of Carmel, IN, is an operation officer for a signal battalion with the Indiana National Guard, and he also has a civilian job. He’s optimistic that military conditions are improving.

“The training in the government is superb, as is the compensatory time off (without a pager) and the vacation schedule. Even the hours are flexible, to a degree. The downside is the pay. The system is coming around, but very slowly. A year ago, bonuses were almost nonexistent but now are becoming commonplace.”

Federal workers offer ways to improve IT retention
Due to many recent layoffs across the United States, job security is a significant lure for many IT pros. For some, a secure position might offset differences in salary. Although the government doesn’t need to question whether or not it will be in business next week, its IT jobs aren’t necessarily secure, according to TechRepublic member Cathy LeFevre. She’s an IT professional who has worked with the USDA Forest Service for 15 years. She writes:

“The government periodically does cut jobs, and IT is one of the first departments to be cut. Many managers consider IT employees to be more clerical and administrative than professional. In their book, anybody can be trained to do ‘computer work.’”

Several other members said that in their experience working for the federal government, there’s often a rift between nontechnical managers and IT employees. AKNetAdmin has been with the National Park Service for seven years and feels that management could make better efforts to retain employees by modifying its attitude towards IT staff.

“Management needs to realize that the IT field is fast-paced and that there is always newer technology being introduced every day.

“Some in management feel that anyone can do this work. Some are technically challenged and will respect you for your technical knowledge and expertise….”

Member sferguso, an IT professional with the FAA for the past five years, agrees that managers need to make an effort to understand the challenges of IT.

“They [managers] don’t see the extra hours we spend studying topic after topic so that they can have a smooth-working machine, network, application, etc.

“I believe a great number of managers in government don’t like change, and they are not proponents of the IT industry because IT means change.”
Is an increase in pay going to keep federal techies from leaving? Are there other things that the government could do to retain its IT staff? Join the discussion and share your advice or experience.