OMB tells agencies to target the use of special salary rate

Multiple sources tell Federal News Network the Office of Management and Budget told agencies to target specific job classifications like cyber or data scientist...

Hope is not lost for all federal technology workers to get on board with the Special Salary Rate.

Despite the Department of Veterans Affairs being the only agency to implement the additional pay for IT employees in the 2210 series, the Office of Management and Budget is leaving the door ajar for broader implementation in fiscal 2024.

Multiple sources tell Federal News Network that OMB recently told agency chief information officers that there isn’t enough money in department budgets to implement the new salary rate for all workers.

Instead, OMB told agencies to target specific job classifications like cyber or data scientists, certain grade levels, or areas where they have the biggest retention or recruitment challenges, sources say.

At the same time, OMB told agencies in the annual budget “passback” that the administration would be providing no new money for these salary increases. This means agencies will have to fund the pay increases within their current, or future 2024, budgets.

An email to OMB seeking comment on the SSR implementation plan was not returned.

The Department of Veterans Affairs and several other Cabinet-level agencies, including the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, and the departments of State, Energy, and Health and Human Services, submitted the SSR proposal to the Office of Personnel Management last fall.

If adopted by all agencies, VA expects the SSR will significantly increase the pay for about 100,000 federal employees governmentwide.

Proposed 2210 SSR pay tables obtained by Federal News Network, however, show the SSR would result in a more than 20% increase in pay for many early and mid-career federal IT workers receiving locality pay for the Washington, D.C. metro area.

A GS-5, Step 1 employee receiving locality pay for the Washington, D.C. metro area, for example, would see their salary increase from $42,870 to $54,360 — a more than 26% increase.

A GS-15, Step 1 employee in the D.C. area, however, would go from a $155,700 salary to $161,000 annually — about a 3.4% increase.

Despite OPM’s approval of the special salary rate and broad agreement that it’s needed, implementation has been limited to only VA.

Ann Dunkin, the Energy Department CIO, said on Wednesday at the ATARC CIO Summit that taking advantage of the SSR was going to be difficult.

“OMB said ‘we are not sure you need the special salary rate and you can’t afford it anyways, so we are not implementing it,’” Dunkin said. “We don’t have a lot of levers in terms of money. So we have to find other ways to attract talent, retain talent and build training opportunities to help us attract and retain folks.”

Dunkin added without the lever of money it becomes critically important to train the people who work in your office now.

“You can train them and worry they will leave, or you can not train them, and they will stay, and that will be worse. So you need to train those folks and give them opportunities, and if you don’t, there is no one’s fault but your own,” she said.

Venice Goodwine, the Air Force CIO, said the Defense Department’s decision not to implement the SSR authority has more to do with creating new inequities across the technology workforce than fixing them.

“It was tied to just 2210s. Under my umbrella for cyberspace and IT, I have 31 specialties so if I only use that special salary rate, I am disenfranchising 30 other people who are possibly eligible for that special rate,” Goodwine said at the AFCEA Air Force IT day yesterday. “By the time you reach the grade of GS-14 or GS-15, you are no longer a 2210, you are 343, 340 or a 301 so I’m also excluding you from that special salary rate. That is one reason why we didn’t do that.”

Goodwine added instead the Air Force is using the Cyber Excepted Service to address the pay disparity between the public and private sectors.

In September, like every fall, agencies submitted to OPM requests for special salary rate.

But with government funding levels still highly uncertain for fiscal 2024, former Federal Salary Council Chairman Ron Sanders said the vast majority of agencies cannot plan ahead and many may hesitate to consider new SSRs for certain positions.



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