The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is officially launching a Special Salary Rate (SSR) to increase the basic bay for thousands of its IT and cybersecurity employees, effective on July 16, making it the first government agency to roll out the new pay model.

VA Press Secretary Terrence Hayes told MeriTalk that the SSR will “close the gap between market salary and Federal government rates,” providing a pay raise for VA Office of Information and Technology (OIT) personnel in 2,210 positions.

“We’re very excited about the SSR and thankful for the authorities we got through the PACT Act to actually implement the SSR,” VA Chief Information Officer (CIO) Kurt DelBene told MeriTalk in an exclusive interview.

“We did a survey in cooperation with OPM [Office of Personnel Management] to see what the salaries look like for what are called Series 2210 employees, or IT employees in the VA, versus the industry. And it was pretty significant and stark, that gap between industry salaries and our own,” DelBene added. “So, what the SSR will do is just for that 2210 Series, bring everybody up to much more competitive with the industry.”

The SSR going into effect this weekend has been a long time coming for the VA. DelBene first floated the idea of an SSR over a year ago, when he testified before Congress saying that a lack of funding causes the agency to lose high-quality IT personnel.

The VA was one of the primary proposers for the SSR late last year, leading a group of Federal agencies in asking OPM for the tech salary bump. However, because the VA received its SSR authorities under the PACT Act, it’s unclear if an SSR is in store for all Federal employees that fall under the 2210-Information Technology Management occupational series.

Dewaine Beard, the VA’s principal deputy assistant secretary (PDAS) and deputy CIO for OIT, told MeriTalk in an exclusive interview earlier this year that the VA’s SSR should help pave the way for other Federal agencies looking to do the same.

“Because of this special authority, we will be able to move out in advance of other agencies and pave the way for others,” Beard said. “We believe the new salary rate will help accelerate our recruitment efforts. I am excited to be able to offer a more competitive compensation package to folks as we continue to recruit.”

“I think our ability to close successfully will improve once we get that Special Salary Rate in place,” he added.

Press Secretary Hayes added that the SSR is just one way the VA is working to improve its employee experience and cement itself as “the leading tech organization within the Federal government.”

“We have a goal which is very simple: we want to be the best IT in the Federal government bar none. And we’re going to do that by actually changing the way we do things,” DelBene said at the DigitalVA Expo on June 29.

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