New Mexico aims for 30% staff cut in human resources

October 1, 2018

The state aims to cut the number of people working full time in human resources across New Mexico’s government by more than 30 percent.

The goal is part of controversial plan to move human resources bureaus from various departments into one agency, the State Personnel Office.

While the initiative has been under scrutiny since Gov. Susana Martinez first announced the reorganization in early 2017, it was initially unclear how many human resources jobs would be eliminated as a result.

Justin Najaka, the director of the State Personnel Office, recently told lawmakers the goal is to go from 348 full-time staff working in human resources to 240.

Najaka told the Legislative Finance Committee last month that the state would “right size” human resources staffing by leaving vacant positions open, reassigning personnel and cutting jobs.

“We have not laid anybody off,” he said.

Najaka told lawmakers the move will make state government more efficient. Human resources staff with expertise in particular fields can assist with personnel issues across state government, and various departments could speed up what can sometimes be a lengthy recruitment process in the civil service.

“We believe it will address many of the challenges we’re facing,” he told legislators.

The office already had combined the human resources services of 37 departments as of last month, Najaka said.

The initiative also has drawn scrutiny as it has run into unanticipated costs, blown past deadlines and ruffled feathers, such as when the state decided to move dozens of human resources staff into a part of the state archives building that other officials had eyed for expanding storage of historic records.

Moreover, critics of the move argue there is a benefit to keeping human resources staff spread out in state government departments, particularly for personnel beyond New Mexico’s bigger cities and for those who may want a face-to-face relationship with administrators in dealing with certain issues such as family leave or grievances.

“Human resources support and assist workers in a variety of issues. Cutting them back is not a great idea,” said Robin Gould of the Communication Workers of America Local 7076.

Meanwhile, the initiative’s future remains unclear.

At least one candidate for governor, Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham, has opposed the move. Republican Steve Pearce’s campaign said he will review the status of the consolidation plans if he is elected.

And the Legislature shot down a bill this year to pay for consolidating human resources departments. That has left out some agencies. For example, departments funded primarily with federal money can usually only spend those funds on their own departments and cannot transfer the cash to the State Personnel Office.

“The effort has gone basically as far as it can,” Connor Jorgensen, an analyst at the Legislative Finance Committee, told lawmakers last month.

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