State audit suggests agencies skirt laws on hiring
Positions filled for special projects often end up used elsewhere, says a report to the Legislature
Some state agencies' hiring practices for special, research and demonstration projects are questionable, and a lack of specific policies has resulted in some agencies finding ways to skirt laws aimed at regulating hiring, a new state audit has found.
Although most of the positions reviewed, and their associated projects, pre-date the current administration, the hiring practices have been allowed to continue, according to the report released yesterday by state Auditor Marion Higa.
In some cases, agencies have interpreted the law liberally and shifted positions to the point where an agency that funds a specific position might not be receiving any benefits from that job. Auditors said there were at least 15 positions assigned to the offices of the governor or lieutenant governor that were funded by other agencies.
The executive branch also has not kept accurate data to determine whether its practices have resulted in any significant cost savings, according to the report.
State Budget Director Geor- gina Kawamura noted that managing the state's roughly $9 billion annual operating budget is a complex task that requires flexibility to ensure that opportunities and problems that arise can be handled efficiently.
"We believe that flexibility in managing resources, including personnel resources, is a critical component of our operations," Kawamura wrote in her response to the audit.
She added that the practice of shifting positions between departments, known as deployments, is the exception and not the rule.
"Deployments are an effective and efficient means of addressing workload requirements and utilizing in-house skills and knowledge without creating or hiring additional staff," she wrote.
The audit was requested by the Legislature as part of the two-year, $8.95 billion state operating budget passed in May.
Auditors focused on 392 general-fund positions that were exempt from civil service because they were tied to 97 different special, research or demonstration projects. Forty-two of those positions were singled out for further review and determined to be "questionable."
In some cases, jobs had continued well past a project's expected completion date, and appeared to have become a regular function of the agency, the audit said.
For example, auditors examined five positions related to a special project to fulfill the state's electronic government initiative in the Information and Communication Division of the Department of Accounting and General Services. The project began in 2001, with the completion date dependent on when the initiative would no longer be a state priority.
"This vague ending date leads us to question whether this project meets the definition of a special project ..." the audit states, adding "it appears that a need will always exist for the services provided by the employees working on this special project."
Kawamura said she agreed with the auditor's recommendation to work with the Department of Human Resources Development to limit the length of special, research and demonstration projects.
The Legislature's audit request also asked for a review of deployed positions.
Auditors selected for further review 15 positions that were funded by one agency but deployed to another. Five of those positions were deployed to Gov. Linda Lingle's office, and the rest to Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona.
They include the governor's policy analyst and senior policy adviser, and the state's drug-control liaison assigned to the lieutenant governor's office.
"While the use of deployed positions in this manner may be legal, we question whether the practice is an efficient and effective use of resources or just a means to circumvent the legislative approval process," the audit stated.
Auditors recommended that more discretion be used in deployments and that the administration ensure that deployed personnel also perform work that benefits the agency funding the position.
Kawamura said the administration agrees with the recommendation and plans to amend budget policies to address the issue.
"However," she wrote, "to reiterate our prior comments, flexibility to deploy positions is a necessary tool in the overall operations of state government."
Summary of findings of an audit into selected hiring policies and practices of the executive branch of government. The audit focused on 392 general-fund positions because the agencies appeared to have a large amount of discretion in creating them, especially those established as "special projects."
» The executive branch's hiring practices for special, research and demonstration projects are questionable.
» The executive branch takes advantage of flexibility in the statutes and rules to fill and deploy positions.
» The executive branch does not quantify the savings related to vacant positions.
Source: Office of the State Auditor