Both the House and Senate versions of the annual DoD budget bill (HR-5515) signal growing concerns that federal salaries are inadequate in high-demand occupations, particularly the so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields.

The Senate bill would have OPM, DoD and Energy “conduct a comparison of salary and benefits for government professional engineers and scientists compared to similar positions in the private sector . . . This study should consider new competitive strategies to hire and retain a skilled workforce in the STEM fields.” That report would be due a year from the bill’s enactment, most likely meaning late next year, in time for recommendations to be included in the following year’s budget cycle.

Similarly, the House bill cites DoD’s difficulty recruiting employees in those fields “due to pay and other compensation limitations imposed by the Office of Personnel Management general schedule pay scales.” It would order DoD and OMB to brief Congress on recruiting and retention problems that result, and make recommendations by January 31 on how DoD “can use professional pay incentives, such as special or incentive pay, like those provided to uniformed career fields such as pilots or medical professionals.”

It also would order a briefing by then on “the effectiveness of existing direct-hire authority and recommendations for any necessary expansion of or changes to the existing authority to improve the Department’s ability to hire technically skilled personnel in a timely manner.”

For the meantime, both bills would expand existing direct hire authority for such occupations at DoD. OPM recently asked agencies to submit information on their recruiting problems for those occupations, suggesting that it may authorize use of that shortcut procedure government-wide for them.