Legislators upset about 2,500 unfilled state job openings

CARSON CITY - State government has 2,500 vacant jobs at a time when the state leads the nation with a 12 percent unemployment rate, facts that ticked off legislators during a meeting of the Interim Finance Committee on Tuesday.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, questioned state Budget Director Jeff Mohlenkamp about why Nevada was not filling jobs when the unemployed rolls top 140,000 people.

"This is contributing to joblessness and impacting our services to our constituents," Horsford said. "The governor put out a goal to create 50,000 jobs by 2014. You would think some of these unemployed people would be qualified for these positions."

But Mohlenkamp said the 2,500 figure "seems like a large number." He added he did not know off the top of his head how many vacancies exist in state government. Generally the vacancy rate is only 2 percent or 3 percent, he said.

"The recruiting system was down for several weeks," Mohlenkamp said. "We should have done a more robust notification process. There are process changes we need to make."

In response to an information request, Department of Administration officials late Tuesday said there were 2,499 state government vacancies on April 1, but nearly 1,000 were for seasonal, temporary, intermittent or special forestry jobs. Leslie Henrie, spokeswoman for the department, said there are 1,564 vacancies in permanent full-time-equivalent jobs.

That is an 11.55 percent vacancy rate out of a permanent authorized workforce of 16,723 people. That total does not include public school teachers or higher education employees.

Henrie said the vacancy rate is not that much different than past years. On April 1, 2008, the rate was 12.55 percent, and last year on that date it was 12.15 percent.

Vacancies include the following:

■ 221 Department of Corrections.

■ 130 Department of Transportation.

■ 87 Health Division.

■ 80 Highway Patrol.

■ 66 Department of Motor Vehicles.

■ 25 attorney general's office.

■ Three governor's office.

Mohlenkamp told legislators there had been hiring freezes in recent years that might have affected prompt hiring. He added that until September, state agency directors had to justify hiring any employees.

"I think you are now going to see a marked improvement," he said.

The issue of state job vacancies was raised during the hearing.

Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, questioned Welfare and Supportive Services officials why they wanted to use $600,000 in funds authorized to hire people to replace 371 old computers.

She noted that during the legislative session last year the agency thought it important to hire additional employees, but it now wants to use the money for another purpose.

Cegavske said that during her legislative career, she has seen state agencies regularly try to use salary funds for other purposes. She questioned whether they deliberately avoided hiring people so they could have money available later for other purposes.

Horsford said he agreed with his "colleague." Cegavske and Horsford are bidding for the new 4th Congressional District seat. He said several times during Tuesday's six-hour hearing that he shared her views.

Despite the objections by Horsford and Cegavske, Interim Finance Committee members voted to allow the welfare agency to use money for computers, not on hiring. Cegavske, Horsford and Assemblyman Tom Grady, R-Yerington, were the only members on the 21-member committee to vote no.

Horsford asked Mohlenkamp to report to the committee in June on the steps he has taken to reduce the state's job vacancy rate.