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1998-04-16 08:11:00


Shortage of Mainframe Programmers Hits U.S. Government



The shortage of programmers now threatens the compliance efforts of the U.S. Government. The Office of Personnel Management has waived the rules governing hiring and paying mainframe programmers who understand COBOL, Fortran, and other arcane languages.

Thids is from FEDERAL COMPUTER WEEK (April 6).

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Seeking additional manpower to fix the millennium bug that is affecting thousands of federal computers, the Office of Personnel Management last week said it would let agencies hike the salaries of programmers working on Year 2000 projects and waive rules that limit how much retired programmers could earn if they return to government work.

According to a memo issued by OPM Director Janice LaChance on March 30, programmers working on Year 2000 fixes are now eligible for extra pay - called "premium pay" - if their managers determine that the programmers are doing emergency work that is necessary to avert threats to life or property, including monetary losses. In addition, agencies can, with OPM's permission, hire back retirees for programming jobs at full pay. . . .

Most federal programmers today did not learn this archaic code, and the private sector's demand for people who know these languages is so great that it is difficult to attract experienced workers. Agencies especially want to hire retired federal programmers because they are the most familiar with these languages and systems. . . .

Agencies can file for waivers that will allow them to offer full salaries to retired government programmers who return to federal work between now and March 31, 2000, when the government expects most of the Year 2000 work to be completed.

Under existing law, retired workers who return to government service can only come back under a reduced pension or lowered salary. . . .

DOT has 40 mainframes running software written in Cobol and other outdated languages in some 20 air traffic control locations. These systems are used to track aircraft altitude, speed and distance from other aircraft for the air traffic controllers nationwide. . . .

John Koskinen, chairman of the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion, said, "I don't expect we'll see a large number of people, like thousands, coming back, but I think that the expertise and the availability of that expertise will be significant."

Joel Willemssen, director of civil agencies information systems at the General Accounting Office, said that although GAO is "encouraged" by the initiative, "some agencies still don't have a precise understanding of what their Year 2000 conversion needs are, either from inside employees working on the problem or from contractors. And some still don't know the skills required, which they need to know if they are going to pull this off."


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