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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.

Revved Up About Transit Parity

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Both chambers of Congress are starting their engines for transit parity for commuters. Tax benefits for commuting via public transportation and those for driving used to be equal, but parity was derailed when Congress failed to extend mass transit perks by a Dec. 31, 2011, deadline. Benefits used to be $230 a month for both public transportation and driving, but now a maximum of $125 is available to mass transit commuters.

In February, we wrote that labor union leaders were revved up about a bill (S. 1034) introduced by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., that would reinstate transit parity.

After parking that proposal in the Senate Finance Committee, the measure was included in the Senate’s massive transportation bill in March.

Now, the National Treasury Employees Union is hoping the issue will gain even more traction with a similar House proposal (H.R. 2412).

National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley and Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., testified before a House panel last week on the provision, a companion to the Senate proposal.

“It’s good for employers, good for employees, good for the environment and helps take cars off our congested roads,” McGovern told the panel.

It’s unclear how quickly the bipartisan proposal will accelerate through Congress to become law, but McGovern testified that he is “hopeful that we can restore parity -- which has bipartisan support -- in the coming weeks.”

IT Pay Stagnant, At Best

The total compensation package for federal information technology employees has stayed flat or actually decreased thanks to the two-year salary freeze for federal workers, according to a new survey by InformationWeek.

The survey of 480 federal IT staffers and 253 federal IT managers found that average total compensation for federal IT staff is flat, at $97,000, while federal IT management actually saw a drop of 4 percent in average total compensation. Their pay and benefits packages fell to $120,000 from $125,000 in 2011.

Despite those grim figures, however, federal IT staff and management still make more than their private sector counterparts, the survey found. Total compensation for private sector IT staffers is $90,000, and it is $116,000 for private sector IT managers, according to the survey. “That’s also higher than state and local governments, which are among the least-lucrative sectors for IT pros,” the survey stated.

It’s important to note that the two-year pay freeze President Obama instituted in 2010 did not affect pay increases related to promotions, step increases or bonuses. Even so, neither IT staff nor IT managers saw increases in base salary or total compensation in 2011, the survey found.

In addition to the two-year pay freeze, the Office of Personnel Management last year placed a cap on performance-based bonuses at 5 percent of base salary for senior employees and 1 percent for others, and asked agencies to award step increases only to employees who meet certain performance standards. Fifty-six percent of federal IT staff and 69 percent of IT managers said they expected to receive a bonus in 2012, however, up 8 percent and 12 percent, respectively, since last year. About three-quarters of respondents said they expect these bonuses to be awarded based on good performance, the survey found.

Still, despite flat salaries, overall satisfaction with pay among federal IT staff and managers remains high. Seventy percent of federal IT staff and 71 percent of IT managers are satisfied or very satisfied with compensation this year compared to 71 percent and 82 percent, respectively, last year, the survey found.

Overall, job satisfaction among federal IT staff and managers also has remained high, though the number of respondents who said they are very satisfied dropped a few percentage points since last year. Federal IT workers said they care most about base pay, job stability, a flexible schedule, benefits and challenging work.

(Image via Kzenon /Shutterstock.com)

Reporter Portrait for GovernmentExecutive.com

Brittany Ballenstedt writes Nextgov's Wired Workplace blog, which delves into the issues facing employees who work in the federal information technology sector. Before joining Nextgov, Brittany covered federal pay and benefits issues as a staff correspondent for Government Executive and served as an associate editor for National Journal's Technology Daily. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Mansfield University and originally hails from Pennsylvania. She currently lives near Travis Air Force Base, Calif., where her husband is stationed.

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