Kiran Ahuja: OPM working to address ‘true angst’ over federal IT hiring inequities

Director of U.S. Office of Personnel Management Kiran Ahuja speaks during a roundtable with U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, and federal workers on Oct. 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images).

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The Office of Personnel Management is working to address the “true angst” expressed by federal government IT staff over differences in pay across agencies, Kiran Ahuja has said.

Speaking Monday at ACT-IAC’s Imagine Nation ELC, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) director said her agency had listened to feedback from government IT specialists and outlined new measures OPM is taking in response.

“I will tell you that there has been so much incoming [communication] to OPM on this issue … the inequities that exist in the hiring of cyber and IT talent across federal government — the loss of people from one agency to another — is a true angst that we hear from our [chief human capital officers],” Ahuja said. 

OPM is working to establish a specific salary band for federal employees working in IT and cyber and to launch an all-of-government cyber talent strategy, according to Ahuja.

“Many of you will know that last year DHS unveiled a new cyber talent management system. They set their compensation aside from the rest of the federal government. What that means is DHS can pay more for cyber talent than other agencies, which is a competitive disadvantage,” she said.

“I will tell you that one of the things OPM is working on — we do recognize the disadvantages — is a special salary grade that will basically unify and lift up these salaries across the federal government,” she added.

The OPM director also noted that her agency is working to expand its capacity by launching a new office focused on federal talent and innovation. According to Ahuja, the new office “will be focused on federal talent and innovation, and really proliferate these best practices across federal government.”

A lack of sufficient IT and cyber talent in the current frenzied labor market has led to a war for staff between government agencies. Speaking at a FedScoop event in August, Department of Commerce CIO Andre Mendes said his agency had been forced to poach staff from other government departments.

In June, Department of Veterans Affairs chief information officer Kurt DelBene told Congress that his agency was working with OPM to establish a special salary rate for cyber employees at VA.

This came after the Department of Homeland Security in November last year rolled out a new cyber talent workforce scheme that allows cybersecurity professionals to make as much as the vice president of the United States, $255,800 — or up to $332,100, if they’re in a geographic market where that salary makes the offer competitive.  

That cyber talent management system dispenses with traditional federal job classifications in place since 1949, changes how applicants prove themselves, ties pay increases to something other than longevity of service, and much more. 

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ACT-IAC, Commerce Department, Cyber Talent Management System, DHS, Kiran Ahuja, Office of Personnel Management (OPM)
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