Walker puts freeze on department hiring, travel

  • By By Elwood Brehmer
  • Wednesday, January 6, 2016 12:40pm
  • News

Those cushy state jobs are going to be a little harder to come by after Gov. Bill Walker’s administration instituted a state hiring freeze and travel restrictions Jan. 5 for all executive branch departments.

Walker said during a press briefing that measures mostly already in place to restrict hiring and travel for state department employees were made official during a Jan. 4 cabinet meeting in which about half of his cabinet staff teleconferenced between Juneau and Anchorage.

“Each department’s sort of been doing their own thing on travel and hiring so it was time to formalize it so we had some consistency across the table,” the governor said.

The hiring freeze applies to all of the roughly 15,000 executive branch employees, except those deemed “essential in protecting the life, health or safety of Alaska citizens,” according to a memo from Walker’s Chief of Staff Jim Whitaker to state commissioners. Those essential positions include Alaska State Troopers, corrections and probations officers and employees providing patient and resident care at 24-hour state health and education institutions.

In keeping with all efforts to close the state’s $3.5 billion budget gap, revenue generating and collecting positions are also exempted, as are federally funded state positions and those funded with program revenue.

Non-essential travel — that for professional development and trade conferences — has been prohibited.

The 125 state boards and commissions have been asked to limit in-person meetings to one a year and teleconference otherwise.

Alaska has pushed through previous oil price dips that have restricted the state’s revenue stream without cutting its workforce, but Walker echoed petroleum industry analysts when he said this time is different.

“In the past we’ve always seen what they call the oil price bounce. There’s no bouncing in this one,” he commented.

Hiring waivers for department positions deemed essential can be granted on a case-by-case basis Chief of Staff Whitaker. Similarly, travel exemptions can be sought from department commissioners and the state Boards and Commissions director, the memo states.

“We have attempted with this policy to balance the need to be efficient while saving money,” Department of Administration Commissioner Sheldon Fisher said at the briefing. “We do not want to in a harmful way impact the ability for departments to deliver their core mission.”

Walker said he asked leaders at the University of Alaska and other quasi-state agencies to consider implementing similar measures, though the governor has no jurisdiction over the outlying areas of government. He did not request that the legislative and judicial branches do the same, citing the separation of powers between the different branches of government.

The governor also said it is too early to tell exactly what the state will save from the measures. 

Shortly after Walker announced the hiring freeze a note clarifying the policy appeared on Workplace Alaska, the state’s job posting website. There were 129 general state positions and nine positions specifically for current state employees posted on the site late Jan. 5.

Walker’s administration says it has cut more than 600 positions, primarily through attrition and retirement, from the 15,800 executive branch positions the state had at the end of the 2015 fiscal year. 

The state has directly laid off employees, but Walker indicated that is a last resort.

“There are lots of folks that are impacted on a layoff, not just the individual working — also their families and we feel very badly about having to do that,” the governor said.

 

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at elwood.brehmer@alaskajournal.com.

More in News

Sens. Löki Tobin, D-Anchorage, right, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, and Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, discuss a bill proposing a nearly 17% increase in per-student education funding Wednesday at the Alaska State Capitol. (Mark Sabbatini /Juneau Empire)
State Senate bill would bump per-student funding amount by $1,000

If approved, the legislation would bump state education funding by more than $257 million

Recognizable components make up this metal face seen in a sculpture by Jacob Nabholz Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023, at the Kenai Art Center, in Kenai, Alaska, as part of Metalwork & Play. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Metalwork gets time to shine

Metal is on showcase this month at the Kenai Art Center

This 2019 aerial photo provided by ConocoPhillips shows an exploratory drilling camp at the proposed site of the Willow oil project on Alaska’s North Slope. The Biden administration issued a long-awaited study on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023, that recommends allowing three oil drilling sites in the region of far northern Alaska. The move, while not final, has angered environmentalists who see it as a betrayal of President Joe Biden’s pledges to reduce carbon emissions and promote green energy. (ConocoPhillips via AP)
Biden administration recommends major Alaska oil project

The move — while not final — drew immediate anger from environmentalists

Homer Electric Association General Manager Brad Janorschke testifies before the Senate Resources Committee on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023, in Juneau, Alaska. (Screenshot via Gavel Alaska)
Senate group briefed on future of Cook Inlet gas

Demand for Cook Inlet gas could outpace supply as soon as 2027

The logo for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is displayed inside the George A. Navarre Borough Admin Building on Thursday, July 22, 2021, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Peninsula voices join state debate over school funding

Lawmakers heard pleas from education leaders around Alaska to increase the state’s base student allocation

Tamera Mapes and a client laugh and joke with one another during a free haircut at Project Homeless Connect on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Caring and connecting

Project Homeless Connect offers a variety of services

This September 2011 aerial photo provided by the Environmental Protection Agency, shows the Bristol Bay watershed in Alaska. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023, effectively vetoed a proposed copper and gold mine in the remote region of southwest Alaska that is coveted by mining interests but that also supports the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery. (Joseph Ebersole/EPA via AP)
EPA blocks Pebble Mine

Pebble called the EPA’s action “unlawful” and political and said litigation was likely

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
COVID-19 cases continue to climb

Statewide hospitalizations decreased slightly

A plow truck clears snow from the Kenai Spur Highway on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Soldotna council approves extra $100k for snow removal

At the end of December, the department was already more than $27,000 over their $100,000 budget for snow removal

Most Read