Impact of freeze order difficult to ascertain

Number of state jobs affected by freeze may be relatively small

Posted: Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Palin Administration explained Friday which jobs would be covered by an employee hiring freeze announced this week.

Gov. Sarah Palin made the announcement Thursday during her State of the State address to lawmakers.

The number of frozen jobs may be relatively small, at least initially.

Palin Chief of Staff Mike Nizich issued a memo Friday with details of who the freeze would apply to, and who would be exempt.

Public safety employees, and staff of 24-hour institutions such as Pioneer Homes, Alaska Psychiatric Institute and correctional facilities would largely be exempt. So would a number of independently operating agencies, including the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation, Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission and similar entities.

Approval for exemptions to the hiring process can also be made on a case by case basis, with the approval of a department's commissioner and the chief of staff.

State Personnel Division Director Nicki Neal said Alaska has about 15,000 employees in the executive branch, which Palin controls.

The state currently has 157 jobs listed open on its Alaska site. Of those, several appear exempt from the freeze, leaving about 127 current jobs covered by the freeze.

Neal said she didn't have an estimate of how many additional jobs would open up before the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

The eventual impact of the hiring freeze will depend upon how many jobs are not filled because of it, but Neal said she didn't know what percentage of the state's total job pool would be exempt.

The Department of Public Safety has 726 employees, of which most are exempt, she said. Same with the Department of Corrections, which has 1,362 employees.

The Health and Social Services Department has about 3,000 employees, Neal said, and many of those workers also are exempt.

"A large percentage are at the Pioneer Homes, API, and youth and juvenile justice facilities," she said.

Those departments have some administrative employees, but many are exempt from the freeze as well.

"A lot of those positions can't be left vacant because it is direct patient care or inmate oversight," Neal said

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