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ASG's lengthy hiring process draws lots of complaints

fili@samoanews.com

The Department of Legal Affairs, which has been faced with a long standing problem of shortage of criminal attorneys, has described the government's hiring process as "tedious and counter-productive" and it appears that individual cases for hiring "have been purposely delayed."

Legal Affairs' observation was made in its fourth quarter performance report for fiscal year 2011 as one of the program impediments the agency faced. The Department of Public Works in its 4th quarter performance report also cited concerns with the hiring process which "takes a very long time".

Samoa News has heard from other departments faced with the same problem and even recalls Fono hearings where ASG officials told lawmakers that they can't fill some of their budgeted positions due to the "slow pace" in getting the paperwork through the Department of Human Resources.

"I regret any inconveniences experienced by any of the departments and agencies in the recruitment and hiring for filling position vacancies," said DHR director Evelyn Vaitautolu Langford when asked for comments on the Legal Affairs' report. "There are human resource processes that cannot be waived and must be complied with as governed by administrative policies and regulations."

Langford points out that the current hiring freeze is still in effect for locally funded positions, which is also impacting the ability of departments to fill their positions, and the governor is the only one with the authority to approve hiring under the current freeze.

She said the filling of career service and contract position vacancies is a responsibility shared by the requesting agency, DHR, the Office of Budget and Planning and the Office of the Attorney General - for contracts only.

Offices under the jurisdiction of Legal Affairs Department, which is overseen by the Attorney General, are the AG's Office, Immigration, Territorial Registrar, Consumer Protection Bureau, and Weights & Measures.

According to Legal Affairs performance report the main impediment in major areas of service - namely, legal, immigration, consumer protection and the territorial registrar - continues to be the lack of funding for additional attorneys, immigration officers, support staff, office supplies, equipment, office furniture and vendor support services.

"We continue to experience delays in the re-organization of our department agencies and personnel due to budget constraints and insufficient local revenue collections," it says.

"Additionally, we are particularly frustrated in the filing of budgeted position vacancies and the hiring of short-term employees paid by federal grant programs; the hiring process has become tedious and counter-productive, to the point where it appears that individual cases have been purposely delayed and given the run-around treatment for personal reasons by a few individuals in key positions at Human Resources," the report alleges.

Asked if some cases have been given the run-around by DHR, Langford said "no; however I do acknowledge that our customer service is lacking at times and affects our ability to properly serve our customer agencies."

She said it's a common fact that the human resources office of any government or corporate organization receives the most complaints and the local DHR is no different.

"Having just returned from a federal symposium on Personnel Management and Human Capital Operations, the same trends exist in federal government departments; in particular on the complexity and inefficiency in the hiring process," she explained. "On average, it would take approximately 160 days from recruitment to hiring; the target goal for most departments now is around 80 days.

"Over the last two years, DHR has focused on the efficiency of our hiring process with expediency as the secondary goal," she said. "Past single audit reports for ASG have reflected the importance of proper source documentation for personnel action in the employee's Official Personnel Files; and corrective actions have been applied with routine internal audits and measures to ensure compliance, accountability and documentation."

As to the concern on the delay in hiring short-term employees paid by federal grants, Langford said that it's difficult to respond to this question without knowing the specific cases or situations.

She did explain that common occurrences that result in delays with hiring requests, whether contract or career service, are incomplete hiring requests, incorrect grant account numbers, insufficient funding with grant accounts identified as the funding source, problems with general applicant eligibility and certifications - employment clearances - to name a few.

"There are also instances where a requesting agency is funded by a federal grant from another department which also impacts the timely processing of a hiring action," she said.

As to Public Works' complaint, Langford said this department "has experienced challenges with hard-to-fill positions such as Professional Engineers and Architects; and often times they have had to compete with other local agencies and companies for high demand of skills in these same areas."

"The remoteness and compensation package is also discouraging in attracting off-island applicants from the U.S. mainland," she said.

According to the Public Works performance report, there is a very high demand for Architectural Engineers and currently DPW has submitted a few architects for hiring- but the process to bring in new employees "takes a very long time", in which case DPW would like the Department of Human Resources "to possibly expedite" documents of these hirees as soon as possible.



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