OREGON’S PHANTOM JOBS
What They’re Saying About House Republican Bill to Target Unfilled State Positions
“Call them the phantom state workers -- hundreds and hundreds of positions on Oregon state agency books that go unfilled for months or even years. Agencies ask for them when they make their budget requests to the Legislature but sometimes keep the money without filling the job.
“As of Jan. 31, the number of vacant but budgeted positions in state government stood at 4,475 according to state records. That's about 11 percent of the total workforce and does not include seasonal positions.
“That's real money, says Rep. Gene Whisnant, R-Sunriver, who wants to change the way the state accounts for long-term vacancies. ‘I believe Oregon's current budget system allows agencies to use unfilled vacancies as slush funds that can be used for other purposes.’
“Whisnant is chief sponsor of House Bill 3360, which would require state agencies to report all positions open longer than six months and eliminate them if there isn't a good reason to keep the job open. The bill gets a hearing today in the House General Government Committee.”
(Oregon House Bill Targets Budgeted State Government Jobs That Go Unfilled, The Oregonian, Harry Esteve, 3/3/2011 link )
“Imagine for a moment that you own stock in a major private company where the departments keep thousands of vacant positions on the books — roughly 11 percent of the total work force. These positions routinely go unfilled for months, even years.
“No way to run a business, right? It’s no way to run a state, either — and state Rep. Gene Whisnant, R-Sunriver, wants to put an end to this what-you-see-isn’t-necessarily-what-you-get budgeting practice.
“Whisnant has introduced House Bill 3360, which would require state agencies to report all positions that are open longer than six months and to eliminate those positions unless agency officials can make a convincing case in support of continuing to keep vacant jobs open.
“Whisnant is on target, despite the disclaimers of state budget officials. If lawmakers want their budgets to have credibility with taxpayers, then they should deal with the problem of ‘phantom workers.’”
(Oregon's Phantom Workers, Register Guard, Editorial, 5/5/2011 link )
“State Representative Gene Whisnant has a plan to save the State $225 million. He says many state positions are funded; yet remain unfilled for more than six months. Whisnant introduced his reform bill on Monday. ‘I think it’s a wake up call, not good management practices.’ Whisnant says freeing up those funds from unfilled positions would allow lawmakers to put more money toward public safety and education and other services.”
(Whisnant Introduces Bill Reforming State Employment, KBND, 3/4/2011 link )
Baker City Herald__________________________
“With lawmakers striving to slash more than $3 billion in spending for the two-year budget cycle that starts July 1, every dollar, as the cliche goes, counts.
“The Legislature can’t continue to give agencies money to pay employees who, it turns out, don’t exist.
“At the least, such situations make it difficult, if not impossible, for lawmakers to keep track of what the public’s money is being spent for.
“House Bill 3360 is more a gentle reminder than a bludgeon.
“The legislation doesn’t automatically do away with every job that’s been vacant for six months. Agency officials would have the chance to explain, to the DAS director, why a particular job hasn’t been filled.
“It might well be that there’s a good reason for the delay, and the job is still needed.
“But one thing is certain: It’s time Oregon public officials started having this sort of conversation.”
(Justifying Jobs, Baker City Herald, Editorial, 2/28/2011 link )
“At any given time, the public agencies conducting Oregon's business -- from law enforcement to social services -- show more than 2,000 jobs on their books that go unfilled. The jobs are real and a hefty part of agencies' requests for taxpayer money, but warm bodies do not fill them to do the work. Yet the agencies win appropriations from the Legislature based in part on these phantom positions.
“This is the tricky situation now being addressed by Rep. Gene Whisnant, R-Sunriver, who wants the jobs off the books -- read: eliminated -- if they go unfilled for six months or more. He is plain in saying too much money is spent for nothing in vacant positions, which are used to inflate an agency's needs and may allow for the creation of agency slush funds.”
(Phantom Jobs in a Broken Budget, The Oregonian, Editorial, 4/4/2011 link )
“Oregon State Representative Gene Whisnant (R-Sunriver) believes he's found a significant source of money for the state's beleaguered budget.
“‘I'd heard reports that there were a lot of vacant positions and those were vacant for a long time," said Whisnant.’ And then I began hearing reports that people, that agencies were using these positions as sort of slush funds. They would use them for operational needs and then when there came to be a requirement for a cut in an agency that they would use those vacant positions,’ he said.
“Whisnant asked legislative budget crunchers to find out if that was true.
“He said the Legislative Fiscal Office found that in the last round of state layoffs, 550 jobs were cut. But he said, 479 of those were vacant. Only 71 people actually lost their jobs.
“He said Oregon's Division of Budget and Management found 3,014 jobs that had been vacant for six months or more as of December 31, 2010.
“Whisnant estimated that if each job carried a $50,000-salary, it would total $225 million for every two-year budget.
“‘I think this is a tradition and a practice that's happened over time,’ Whisnant said. ‘I'm not accusing or on a witch hunt against agency heads, but I think it sort of became a practice that people did. And that's not right. In these current economic times, we can't afford to fund a position and not be using that position for what it said it was going to be doing,’ he said.
“The representative hoped to get a law passed requiring state managers to report any job open more than six months, to justify it and give the money back to the general fund if the position is not needed.”
(State Rep. Questions Use of Oregon 'Slush Fund,' KGW, Pat Dooris, 4/4/2011 link )
“House Republicans introduced a reform bill Monday to eliminate government positions that are funded, yet remain vacant for more than six months. House Bill 3360 requires agencies to report on positions that have been vacant for six months. If an agency can't justify an unfilled position, it must be eliminated and the agency's budget would be adjusted accordingly.
“Representative Gene Whisnant said eliminating vacant positions can help direct more dollars to essential services such as classroom instruction and public safety.
“‘I believe state agencies request more positions than they really need to deliver services to Oregonians,’ Whisnant said. ‘If a funded position is held vacant for more than six months, we could determine the positions aren't needed and redirect the money to more urgent needs. This bill will give us more accurate budget information and allow us to reduce personnel costs.’”
(Whisnant, GOP Supports Bill To Eliminate Vacant Government Positions, MyCentralOregon, 2/22/2011 link)