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Amid Debate Over Agency Vacancies, NYC Government Workforce Report More Than Two Years Late

On the job (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

The New York City Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) is preparing to publish its latest annual workforce report, which details the demographics of the city government’s massive workforce and trends in employee turnover. But the report is already obsolete, given it is to cover the 2020 fiscal year, which ended June 30, 2020, at the height of the pandemic, and will fail to shine a light on how the municipal workforce has changed in the last two years.

DCAS’ report, which was most recently published last year and covered the 2019 fiscal year, examines employee-level data from 72 city agencies and offices under the Mayor, various city boards, and even the offices of elected officials including in the City Council, the Public Advocate, the Comptroller, Borough Presidents, and District Attorneys. The report, which is usually published before the end of the next fiscal year, presents detailed demographic data – age, gender, race, ethnicity – as well as information on salaries, length of employment, and retirement eligibility. It looks at hiring, attrition, resignations, and transfers.

According to a DCAS spokesperson, the long-delayed report will be released in the coming months and is tardy in part because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which affected the lengthy process of collecting and reviewing data from city agencies and the pension system. The DCAS spokesperson made no mention of when the next two reports might be published to get the annual report up to date. The mayor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

At a glance, the report provides a valuable look at the city’s workforce. It shows patterns of diversity, in race, age, and gender. It shows where the city’s workforce lives, across the five boroughs and its surrounding counties. And it provides comparisons with other major cities.

Since the report was last published, however, the municipal workforce has experienced a massive upheaval because of the pandemic and decisions by city leaders. The intervening period also covers the end of the eight-year Bill de Blasio administration and start of Eric Adams’ mayoral tenure. The city lost more than 19,000 full-time workers, and vacancies have soared amid unusually high attrition rates, controversial retention and hiring policies, and a tight labor market. An acute staffing crisis has threatened critical functions and services at several city agencies.

With the massive number of vacancies that the city will not be able to quickly fill and amid belt-tightening efforts, Mayor Eric Adams has ordered a 50% cut in budgeted vacancies across the board for all non-uniformed positions in advance of his preliminary budget for next fiscal year, which is due in February. But none of that, though the subject of intense ongoing debate and negotiation, is expected to be covered in the DCAS report on the city workforce of the 2020 fiscal year.

“I would say this report is more important now than ever because it gives us the ability to compare,” said City Council Member Gale Brewer, a Manhattan Democrat. Brewer chairs the Committee on Oversight and Investigations and chaired a joint hearing in September with the Committee on Civil Service and Labor on maintaining the city’s workforce. At the hearing, Brewer and her colleagues pressed the administration on the municipal worker shortage, concerns that they have since reiterated repeatedly, including at a more recent hearing on the mayor’s November budget update.

[Read: At Hearing, City Council Criticizes Mayor Adams on Budget Decisions, Depleted Agencies]

While the report will contain important information, as Brewer pointed out, it will present an outdated picture since it covers the fiscal year from July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020. “That’s a strange time, for lack of a better word,” Brewer said. “We don't know who's in the office, who's not.”

Brewer is also concerned about retirement trends. “New York City has an older workforce,” she said. “That's another whole challenge right now because…so many people are retiring. In addition to nobody wanting to work for the city, it's really creating a challenge to provide service.”

She also doesn’t buy the excuse that DCAS’ report was so delayed because of covid. “I think everybody blames everything on the pandemic. I assume some delay would be called for…but this is too long a delay,” she said.

Other electeds have also been sounding the alarm about the city’s staffing trends and have called for more transparency from the administration. New York City Comptroller Brad Lander released a report earlier this month warning that the high rate of vacancies at city agencies is affecting critical services, as he urged the mayor to accelerate hiring and improve retention. And while Mayor Adams has promised new recruitment and retention policies, he has yet to announce any so far.

A separate report released last month by State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office examined how the pandemic has affected the city’s workforce. “The City experienced significant growth in its full- time workforce in the years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, much of which was driven by new or expanded services. The pandemic, and the City’s efforts to manage the budgetary implications of its impact, have led to a decline in staffing which has undone much of this growth,” the report states. “The decline did not occur evenly across the City’s agencies. Certain occupations also experienced a disproportionate decline, including those engaged in educational support as well as protective and enforcement services.”

But that report excluded full-time equivalent employees and certain public authorities like the massive New York City Housing Authority and Health+Hospitals, both of which are in the DCAS workforce profile report. It also did not analyze workforce demographics, which the DCAS report does.

In his report, DiNapoli encouraged DCAS to release its latest data. “The City would benefit from having an updated assessment of the changes to its workforce since the pandemic began,” it states.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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