Jenifer O’Neal, director nominee to the Office of Management and Budget, told lawmakers Wednesday that the Bryan administration is working to curb excessive overtime in the wake of reports that the Virgin Islands Police Department alone incurred more than $30 million in overtime hours in 2018.
O’Neal testified before the Senate Committee on Rules and Judiciary, chaired by Sen. Alicia Barnes (D-STX), which voted to advance her nomination. Voting in favor of O’Neal’s nomination were Sens. Myron Jackson (D-STT), Kenneth Gittens (D-STX), Novelle Francis (D-STX), Stedmann Hodge (D-STT), Steven Payne (At-Large) and Barnes. Degraff was absent.
“I have no qualms in saying the biggest culprit is VIPD,” O’Neal said, adding that other agencies also log high overtime hours, including V.I. Fire Services.
“We’ve spoken to the acting [police] commissioner on the schedules,” O’Neal said.
Currently, government payroll gets processed regardless of the territory’s budget issues, but that practice may be on the chopping block. According to O’Neal, the Bryan administration is working on putting in place certain triggers that would apply to personnel, alerting them on certain limits in the hours they can work and making it difficult to process overtime.
Sen. Donna Frett Gregory (D-STT) expressed concerns, saying it may not be the right approach.
“Please be mindful,” Gregory said. “We don’t need any unnecessary riots here in the Virgin Islands or union issues because of those types of decisions.”
“We’re not saying that employees and officers will not get paid,” O’Neal responded. “They’ll get paid. It just won’t be as easy for them to get paid as it is now … It will force the departments to manage differently because it won’t be as easy for them to process.”
According to O’Neal, the administration is having conversations with agencies that traditionally incur the most overtime hours. In the case of VIPD, it includes conversations on reducing the current 12-hour shifts to 10-hour shifts, and recruiting the additional 50 officers that VIPD leadership said it needs. Gittens, however, expressed doubts on where additional policemen can solve the overtime issue.
“Fifty additional officers would not stop the waste, fraud and abuse that I’m seeing. It’s a matter of management,” Gittens said.
“I have repeatedly stated I do not see a money problem in the V.I. Our problem, our major problem, is the management of these funds. And until we get people to start doing what they’re supposed to do, we’re going to continue to have a problem,” Gittens added.
O’Neal also reassured lawmakers that the administration will not roll back salaries nor cut back on staffing but instead is looking at ways to move staff around to areas where they might be more needed.
O’Neal has served in other capacities at OMB in the past: as deputy director of budget and operations and as associate director for the agency’s Policy Management Unit. O’Neal also served in other agencies and jurisdictions, as chief financial officer for the V.I. Department of Human Services and as senior analyst for the British Virgin Islands government.
O’Neal touted her agency’s accomplishments during her first 100 days, including sourcing software that would fully automate the budget process, making it more efficient and eliminating errors. O’Neal said she is also working on a grant management system that would create a central database where all federal grants can be monitored and managed.
O’Neal also pointed to the recently posted government transparency website, as well as the revival of the OMB’s website that would allow others working in government to get budgetary information more quickly.
According to O’Neal, her agency will also uphold Act 7521, which mandates revenue-estimating conferences in March and September to create the territory’s official financial forecast. This year, the conference was held on March 27.
Among O’Neal’s priorities for the next two years is feeding $5 million annually into the Budget Stabilization Fund, the territory’s “rainy day fund.” She also aims to reduce the structural deficit by paying down outstanding obligations, conducting a review of government services and associated fees, and looking for innovative ways to grow the economy.
O’Neal’s nomination has been forwarded to the full Senate body for review during the next Senate session.