By BECKY BOHRER
JUNEAU — Gov. Bill Walker’s office has tweaked its policy on state agency hiring restrictions, shifting decision-making authority from Walker’s chief of staff to state commissioners.
John Hozey, a deputy chief of staff to Walker, said in an interview Wednesday that quarterly hiring and travel reports will be used as an accountability measure.
Last January, Walker’s office barred non-essential travel and restricted hiring to help cut costs amid a multibillion-dollar budget deficit that has yet to be closed. Commissioners could seek waivers to the hiring restriction if a position was considered “mission critical” and the workload couldn’t otherwise be handled. The chief of staff decided whether to grant waivers.
The latest policy revision released earlier this month lets commissioners decide if waivers are warranted. However, the chief of staff or his designee will review requests for positions at higher-pay ranges, those that Hozey says are in the upper-levels of salary in the state. Any salaries topping $150,000 “must provide adequate justification and will be thoroughly scrutinized,” the policy states.
Commissioners can grant blanket approvals for certain job classes, essential for life, health and safety, operating 24-hour facilities and engaged directly in collecting revenue. Those approvals also will have to be reported.
The intent in delegating authority to the commissioners is to make the process more efficient, Hozey said, noting neither he nor the chief of staff are experts on the departments. The authority to consider a waiver request was sometimes delegated to Hozey.
“It’s kind of hard for us to determine whether a position is really, truly critical or whether someone is just writing a really good memo,” he said.
The administration will use the reports to see if hiring remains restrained and stays at targeted levels, he said. If the administration sees an issue with a specific department, it will have a discussion with that department, he said.
A total freeze on hiring isn’t practical, Hozey said. “The goal here is to get as close to a freeze as we can but continue the essential functions of the state,” he said.
Suzanne Downing, a blogger and former state Republican party spokeswoman, has questioned how necessary some of Walker’s own hires have been and the salaries paid for some of those employees.
Some of the questions have surrounded John-Henry Heckendorn, recently picked to be a special assistant to Walker and the chief of staff. Marquette said Heckendorn will have the duties previously handled by two positions.
An employee in the lieutenant governor’s office is taking on the duties of another employee who has left, Marquette said. The administration also does not plan to fill the position of a second deputy chief of staff, who is retiring, Marquette said.