Without Controls, A Truly Bad Idea

According to Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter Michael Hardy’s front page story, Governor Warner’s budget submission “will give state agency heads about $16 million to help recruit, retain and pay experienced workers more in their departments.”

Obviously, I haven’t seen the details of this proposal, but it sounds like a terrible idea to me. Agency heads are gubernatorial appointments who breeze in every four years and are easily made captives of the prevailing agency atomosphere. To give them more discretionary authority to pay some employees more is an invitation to favoritism and institutionalization of even more subjectivity than already exists in the state workforce.

State jobs are not exactly going begging–recent state jobs that I’ve seen posted attract in excess of 100 applicants just from local advertising. As for retention, for virtually no new money agencies could design entry level jobs, career paths, and succession plans. That’s what would increase retention. Why give agencies money for things they could and should do with existing resources, or for things they don’t even need?

The problem with state government compensation is that people at the bottom rung make too little and see little chance for advancement. Administrative personnel do the research and make the powerpoint presentations that the high-priced help takes to conferences, for example. Rather than seek to promote from within where possible, the state recruits new people off the street.

This might be a good idea if agencies had to apply for the money and submit a plan, assuming somebody with an ounce of skepticism reviewed the plan before authorizing the money.

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10 responses to “Without Controls, A Truly Bad Idea”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    As one of the “administrative personnel” alluded to in this blog, I have to say I agree. Perhaps this money could be better used for more training opportunities for current entry-level workers to offer them a career path towards the coveted higher-paid “cushy” state jobs.

  2. Sorry Will, I disagree. First, there are at least two agency heads that are not appointed by the governor – SCHEV and VRS I believe. A minor point, but still true.

    Second, I have had a devil of a time filling positions with qualified people. I may be able to get a dozen applicants, but too often no more than one or two come anywhere close to being qualified.

    Third, I think where this money is most likely to beneficial is in the small agencies that struggle with recruiting and retaining personnel because there are so few opportunities to promote from within.

  3. Will Vehrs Avatar

    Terry, I appreciate your perspective. Maybe what I see is very different and there are wide variances by agency. That would at least argue for agencies requesting money, not just getting it handed to them regardless of circumstances..

  4. Will:
    I think that what the Governor is trying to do here is put some money on the table to address salary compression. Entry level salaries have been increased consistently over the years in response to market demands. Long term employees, however, have been through years of no raises and low raises, and have ended up, in some cases, making not much more than new employees. This money would be used to provide compensation and incentives to retain such employees who might otherwise look to the private sector.

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    try recruiting for young talent in local government. I am constantly banging my head against the wall as our County Supervisors do not understand that a $24K a year job does not attract the best and brightest out of college.

    Teachers generally get the most pr out of this, but if you step back, try getting someone with a Master’s Degree to be a Planner II in a rural community for $28-$31K per year. It ain’t going to happen.

  6. Will, I do think it needs to be on a case-by-case basis. I think there are also serious structural issues with how small agencies are budgeted that should be addressed.

    I also know that CG2 is correct on the issue of salary compression. How can I hire the best and the brightest, assuming I can get them to apply, if I have to pay them more than my assistant directors? State policy, when the funds are available, only let me ask for so much in the way of salary adjustments.

    Of course, this is true in the private sector and has long been true in terms of hiring faculty. What it leads to though is lower retention as people change jobs more frequently in order to get the salary they feel they are worth.

  7. Anonymous Avatar

    I don’t know that it would be without controls either. You can only give an existing employee a certain percentage no matter what. The highest annual increase is 10% isn’t it (total annual even if more than one type of adjustment)? I think I remember seeing on the sheet that most of the allowed adjustments are max 4-5%. I could be wrong on this. I’m not admin. As far as I know the agencies would still have to adhere to the limitations. Of course, you can hire off the street at whatever as long as it’s in the band. I wonder if this money could also be used to fund the bonus incentives. That’s always seemed to be a tough one for agencies to properly fund. I’ve heard a lot of grapevine complaints because the pay bands were set up for more flexibility but never funded. Maybe this is the “funding” they’ve been looking for?

    I really can’t complain on this one. Our agency head is very fair about pay. There are many employees in our agency that have been increased, bonused, etc. to keep the field level. I hope all the other agencies can achieve the same. We don’t seem to have retention problems. In fact, now we’re edging up on retirement problems. That may also be another issue here. I understand that a really high percentage of state workers are retirement age soon. I don’t doubt it will take more money to attract the younger crowd and keep them around with us old codgers.

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    I can assure you that favoritism is alive and well in state govt. I know how the game is played. The good ole boys and gals will love this. The best increase monitor or plan should be in the form of longevity – like what the General Assembly did this year. No one can take the number of years from you and its not based on who you eat lunch with or what your politics are.

  9. Anonymous Avatar

    Or your level of competence…

  10. Anonymous Avatar

    I don’t disagree that the Good Ole Boy mill still exists. Good grief, they sell out entire agency staff (except for the high-paid management, of course) to a private company for what???

    I’m just saying that there was a need to “re-invent” the compensation plan according to most agencies and it was done. There is also a need to fund it to make it effective. Could this be the intention of the funding? If agencies don’t use the money for legitimate attraction, staff-leveling, retention, etc. reasons, they should be called on the carpet in the biggest way.

    I don’t know… maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s just a ploy to suck up a few potential votes from the state employees that have been pretty banged up in the last few years?

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