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Personnel Pushing Unclassified Employees To Classified Positions

Addressing a request senators made during last year’s budget talks, the V.I. Government’s Personnel Division has recently moved 358 "unclassified" government employees into "classified," civil service positions with regulated pay and job protections, Personnel Director Kenneth Hermon said during budget hearings Thursday.
For a number of years, V.I. lawmakers have regularly expressed concern about the number of government employees who may be doing the work of regular, line employees, but are paid more than their colleagues because they are categorized as unclassified. Last year, Hermon told senators his division had begun systematically analyzing positions and transferring people into classified positions. During Thursday’s hearing, he said the first phase, unclassified nonunion workers in the executive branch, was 85 percent done.
Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson asked what criteria were used in making the decisions and why there was a push to change these employees’ status now.
The process was on hold for nearly a year while the division personally interviewed over 800 employees and analyzed the results, but was now nearly complete, Hermon said. To make the decision, they verified each employee’s self-description of their daily duties with their employers and compared it with the V.I. code’s rules on who may be paid as an unclassified employee.
"To be (unclassified) you have to be in a close, confidential relationship to a policy maker, be a policy maker or an assistant to a policy maker," Hermon said. "Once we compared the information we had to the code, it was clear 358 should not be unclassified."
Changing the status of those employees will result in annual savings of about $160,000, he said.
Last year, Personnel’s Group Health Insurance Division discovered during internal audits that large numbers of employees were getting family coverage but paying for individual coverage, and as a result the government owed Cigna, its insurer, millions of dollars.
"Last year the government owed $16 million, said Maureen Venzen, director of the Group Health Insurance Division. "This year that obligation has been paid … which will put us in a much better negotiation position with Cigna."
Over the past year, the government’s insurance premiums totaled $70.3 million, with $45 million paid by the government and $24.6 million paid by employees, Venzen said. Cigna paid claims amounting to $57.9 million over the same time, she said.
In 2010, Personnel completed a full transition to an electronic system for processing personnel actions, eliminated most paper documents, reducing lags in the processes of hiring and paying new government employees, Hermon said. Paper was Personnel’s biggest daily supply cost and the move will save $20,000 this year alone, he said.
Rochelle Benjamin, financial management supervisor at Personnel, gave the division’s budget numbers. For the 2011 fiscal year, Personnel requested $3. 6 million, a decrease of $78,000 from last year’s funding. Of that, $2.2 million is for personnel; $785,000 for benefits; $150,000 for utilities and $8,500 for supplies.
The funding consists of $3.2 million from the general fund of the V.I. Government and $381,000 from the Indirect Cost Fund, a revenue stream replenished by federal payments for services performed by V.I. Government agencies.

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