As the federal government has found it increasingly difficult to compete with private industry to recruit and retain highly qualified health scientists, Congress has recognized the need for new incentives to attract talent to government service.
To address this, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) has introduced a bill that would provide special pay for federal employees working in health science positions. Senate bill 953, "Special Pay for Federal Board Certified Health Scientists," will help the federal government attract and retain the best-trained scientists to work in the Executive Branch.
Terrorism prevention remains a high priority for government, but many scientific questions, diagnoses, treatments, and mitigations remain unanswered. Our country needs the best-trained and motivated minds to work on these important homeland security and health issues.
Currently, veterinarians serving in the Army, Air Force, and Public Health Service receive $300 to $500 additional pay per month for achieving board certification in a recognized specialty. In October 2000, President Clinton signed the 2001 Defense Authorization Act, which included the authorization for the Army to provide this specialty pay to veterinarians in the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps. Senator Landrieu's bill would extend specialty pay to all federal health-care professionals who are board-certified.
As an officer in the Army, Dr. Bennie Rice Jr., a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine, worked extensively, both nationally and internationally, with food industries, universities, scientists, engineers, state and local public health officials, and government officials to carry out preventive medicine and other public health activities.
Dr. Rice wrote: "... now I am one of the few board-certified medical professionals in my federal government agency—but we need a lot more, and in a wide range of scientific disciplines ..." Dr. Rice cited the current war efforts, the terrorist threat to agriculture, and devastating foreign animal diseases as some of the reasons for the demand for board-certified scientists.
Board certification is a tool for upgrading the quality of the federal work force. If specialty pay for board certification were available for upper-level scientific positions, it would create a professional career ladder for those who are motivated to be the best in their scientific fields. This would help retain highly qualified people, preserving the scientific historical memory in the departments, agencies, and legislature. Board certification pay provides incentive for continuous professional growth, recognition of excellence, and motivation for mastering a higher skill level.
The rate of the special pay to which an employee would be entitled is $2,500 per year if the employee has fewer than 10 years of creditable service; $3,500 per year, if the employee has at least 10 but fewer than 12 years of creditable service; $4,000 per year, if the employee has at least 12 but fewer than 14 years of creditable service; $5,000 per year, if the employee has at least 14 but fewer than 18 years or more of creditable service; or $6,000 per year, if the employee has 18 years or more of creditable service.
Board-certified professionals can demand higher salaries in the private sector and in government. Employers are more eager to hire professionals with demonstrated ability to do the job. For example, starting salaries for veterinarians certified in laboratory animal medicine exceed $100,000.
Currently, there is a $30,000 to $40,000 difference between the salaries earned by public service veterinarians and industry veterinarians, according to Dr. Melvin Balk, executive director of the American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine.
The government needs the ability to offer competitive salaries to attract and keep a highly skilled professional work force.
The AVMA is developing a coalition with other health science professional organizations that would benefit.
The veterinary medical specialty boards have expressed great interest in S. 953.
The AVMA has contacted many of the state veterinary medical associations whose senators serve on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. The state associations have been encouraged to send letters of support to those senators.
Currently, there is not a House companion bill for S. 953. The AVMA is actively looking for a sponsor and hopes to have a House version of this bill introduced soon. It may be possible to incorporate this bill into existing homeland security legislation.
The AVMA is asking its members to contact their senators and ask them to support the bill.
Call, fax, e-mail, or send a personal note or letter on your office or personal stationary to your senators, asking that they contact Kathleen Strottman at Sen. Landrieu's office at (202) 224-3515 to co-sponsor this important legislation. For more information contact Dr. Michael Chaddock, AVMA Governmental Relations Division director, at (202) 789-0007.