From Statehood in 1959, Alaska had the standard federal style system of decentralized personnel administration based in the operating departments with a central Personnel agency setting policy and providing some oversight and audit. The system was governed by statute and regulation and was state of the art in the late 1940s. Pay was set by legislative enactment except in the ferry system which had collective bargaining. The government became vastly larger with burgeoning revenue from the North Slope almost concurrently with the State’s adoption of collective bargaining for virtually all of its employees from 1972. Collectively bargained pay and processes elbowed the old statutory and regulatory system aside for day to day operations but the old system remained in place for non-represented employees and to fill the gaps not covered by collective bargaining. The system had become desperately creaky and outdated but this isn’t the sort of thing you can get politicians to spend money on in lean times. The Democrat Knowles Administration took office in ’94 and under pressure from their union allies gutted the already minimal centralized authority over personel and labor relations. In typical Democrat fashion, in the name of streamlining they repealed all the rules to make it safe to hire a Democrat into any job regardless of job requirements of qualifications and at any desired rate of pay. The almost total decentralization made the always powerful politically appointed Administrative Services Directors almost all-powerful regarding hiring and pay of employees, subject only to the limitations of the unions’ influence over the administration.
I and some of my friends in the government endured this travesty and planned to rectify it at the first opportunity. On taking office in ’02, we secured Governor Murkowski’s approval to implement a reorganization of all HR/LR functions in accordance with a White Paper on government organization we had done for in secret for the Campaign. We planned it with a select and trusted few by dark of night and implemented it by bringing in the major players to the Governor’s Conference Room and telling them that this was the way their world was going to look tomorrow and their only choice was whether to be in that world or not.
We completely centralized the HR function under the statutory director of personnel, my primary co-conspirator, and the LR function in a separate division that I headed. We rescinded all HR/LR authority outside our offices and took all the employees away from the Agencies and put them under our supervision. It was a struggle particularly in getting competent personnel. The Agencies had had a collection of fixtures, pets, and not a few playthings, many of which were worse than useless. Suffice it to say that there was a lot of turnover when these people were placed under supervision that actually knew something about the work. Some of the women in particular really, really didn’t like being placed under female supervision where their talents would be less appreciated.
There was a constant drumbeat of opposition and backstabbing but my friend and I had the personal horsepower to hold them off and keep the system running. With a centralized system we were able to stop the private deals and most of the special pay. Can’t say we stopped the pets and playthings but we moved them to the level where you had to be the pet or plaything of somebody who was powerful enough to make you into what was/is essentially a political appointee to keep you around. My friend retired in ’05, but her successor was one of our cohort and was able to keep it mostly together on the Personnel side. I retired in July ’06 and the holdovers in the Agencies started dancing for joy.
Enter Sarah Palin and her buddies who’d never run anything larger than a real estate office or the “City” of Wasilla. Sarah promptly ran off most everyone appointed by Murkowski, who just happened to be pretty much all of the Republicans who knew where the lights switches and restrooms in State offices were. So, the Departments start their pleas to the Governor about how they aren’t being served and how they’re the “customers,” and of course Palin doesn’t know any better and ain’t much on that detail stuff anyway.
So, it took them until early this year but to make it look legitimate rather than just a power play, they get an appropriation and do a study to “examine the HR/LR processes” and make recommendations for a more “satisfactory” system. I didn’t go look it up but I’d say it was $100K or so, maybe more. When I first saw the RFP, I said, “Oh well, this is how they get their HR girls back and start playing politics with unions again.” So, here is Alaska’s taxpayers dollars at work: http://dop.state.ak.us/iscsi/fileadmin/DirectorsOffice/pdf/StateOfAlaskaHRStructureStudy.pdf
Interestingly, and I suspect not coincidentally, the contractor didn’t bother to talk to me or any of the other people involved in the ’03 restructuring.
There in all the radiant glory of charts and graphs and captions with circles and arrows is the contractor’s finding that the Administrative Services Directors, almost all of whom are Democrats and most of whom are holdover Democrat appointees are getting their girl down the hall back and the central agency will be ceding day to day authority over personnel and labor relations back to them. You’d think that the great hope of Republicans around the Nation would understand that Personnel IS Policy and try to keep it under Administration control. And now, even as much as I hate that government, I’m going to have to get out of my bathrobe and start moving pieces around to stop them from pulling it off.