Jenifer C. O’Neal, director of the Office of Management and Budget, presented to the Committee on Finance Friday a budget request of $52.9 million for 2023. She said $8.4 million is to fund OMB operations, and the remaining $44.5 million is budgeted for various purposes, including wage adjustments and appropriations for not-for-profit entities.
She emphasized in her testimony OMB’s efforts to give guidance to government agencies “to enhance operations.”
Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory questioned whether this was happening as agencies continue having a hard time filling vacancies. She said, “There seems to be overarching, a continuing issue with departments and agencies filling their vacancies 50 percent funded.”
Sen. Marvin Blyden echoed her concerns saying the problem has been a frustrating one for years. He said he has met young people. “They want a job. They have a degree. They want to work for the government.” But they can’t get in.
Sen. Janelle Sarauw said she knew of residents promised jobs in the Department of Human Services in October who still have not been able to get on board.
O’Neal indicated there was going to be a meeting at the end of this month with agency heads to go over problems such as filling vacancies. Sen. Kurt Vialet said a meeting was not needed to hire someone for a position that was already funded, and “Someone just needs to do their job.”
Sen. Novelle E. Francis was complimentary concerning OMB’s establishing an office on St. Croix and its efforts to bring young people into the government workforce. In her testimony, O’Neal said two employees would next week occupy the office in Estate Diamond on St. Croix. She added that there was enough space there for 10 individuals as OMB has plans to grow operations on St. Croix.
As for young employees, O’Neal said one of her most satisfying accomplishments was participation in the GVI Financial Fellows Program this year. Three gentlemen, recent college graduates who recently finished a stint at OMB, were introduced during the hearing. O’Neal said the three assigned to OMB for their first rotation had learned to be budget analysts, revenue analysts, and grants analysts, handling budgets just like all other staff. The second wave of fellowships is expected to start in October.
Sens. Samuel Carrión and Javan James focused questions on the third-part fiduciary agent that is mandated to oversee the Department of Education and Department of Human Services. The contract for that agent is costing the territory over $2 million every year. O’Neal said that progress was being made, and she is confident that the mandate, which is approaching its 20th year, may be lifted in the not-too-distant future.
The proposed budget would fund 59 full-time positions, which includes 22 new and vacant positions, of which 19 are unclassified/exempt and three classified/nonunion positions. Currently, the department consists of 26 unclassified/exempt positions and 11 classified/non-union positions.
According to a press release from the Legislature, the request from the General Fund to fund the day-to-day operations of the Department for 2023 is $6.3 million, a 36 percent decrease from the 2022 budget appropriation of $9.8 million.
Senators present at Friday’s committee hearing included Kurt Vialet, Donna Frett-Gregory, Marvin Blyden, Samuel Carrión, Dwayne DeGraff, Novelle E. Francis, Kenneth Gittens, Javan James, Carla J. Joseph, and Janelle Sarauw.