It’s no secret the Federal government can’t compete with the private sector when it comes to pay for many job classifications. But Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Director Kiran Ahuja said this week that Federal agencies often compete with themselves when it comes to attracting talent, and OPM is looking into a Special Salary Rate to even the playing field between agencies.

At ACT-IAC’s Imagine Nation ELC 2022 event on Oct. 24, Ahuja said that pay for the Federal government was the “elephant in the room,” as revealed by the recent results from the 2022 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS).

The OPM survey found that although Federal employees’ overall job satisfaction and engagement remained steady, they are less satisfied with their pay in 2022 compared to 2021. Fifty-six percent of Federal employees said they are satisfied with their pay – down five percentage points from 61 percent satisfaction in 2021.

“I think we have an advantage over the private sector – the Federal government wins on mission every single time. But the irony is that we aren’t just competing with the private sector. Oftentimes, we are competing with ourselves,” Ahuja said.

Ahuja explained that the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Cybersecurity Talent Management System – which launched last fall – has put DHS’s compensation for cyber talent above the rest of the Federal government.

“DHS can pay for more for cyber talent, leaving other agencies at a competitive disadvantage. I will tell you that there’s been so much incoming to OPM on this issue,” she said. “The inequities that exist in the hiring of cyber and IT talent across the Federal government, the loss of people from one agency to another, it is the true angst that we hear from our CHCO [chief human capital officer] community.”

OPM’s Workforce Solutions

In an effort to combat these pay inequities across the Federal government, Ahuja said OPM is looking to implement a Special Salary Rate that will “unify and lift up these salaries across the Federal government.”

Additionally, she said OPM is going to be launching a cyber talent strategy “in the coming year” that will discuss, among other things, pay and position descriptions.

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“It really is an acknowledgment of the challenges we have in competing for these positions,” Ahuja said.

As for hiring efforts, Ahuja said the Federal government needs to hire thousands of employees – specifically in cyber and IT – and OPM is piloting innovative efforts to do so.

“Right now, OPM is also expanding our capacity with a new office that we plan to launch that will be focused on Federal talent and innovation and really proliferating these best practices across the Federal government,” she said.

Finally, Ahuja said OPM will continue to lead the effort around telework and hybrid work. The agency plans to provide free training “very soon” to agencies that will “help with performance management and engaging employees in the hybrid work environment,” she said.

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is MeriTalk's Assistant Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.