The Journal Gazette
Sunday, September 27, 2020 1:00 am

Indiana sees dip in state workers

Most agencies under governor's hiring freeze

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana's employee headcount has dropped about 600 since spring – but Gov. Eric Holcomb's administration still has more than previous Republican administrations.

Cris Johnston, head of the Indiana Office of Budget and Management, said there is no magic number in terms of employees.

“I don't think there is a business model that can be applied uniformly across state government,” he said. “It's a combination of are we delivering good customer service? Are we meeting the requirements of the program?”

Johnston said these questions are going to be important when crafting the next two-year state budget in January.

That's because the pandemic has slashed Indiana's tax revenue by about $1 billion. Holcomb in May ordered a hiring freeze for most of state government. But some agencies, such as the Department of Child Services and the Indiana State Department of Health, have been allowed to replace or add employees because the work done by the agencies has increased during the pandemic.

According to the Indiana Transparency Portal, the state employee headcount is 30,918. It was 31,513 in May – the highest level during Holcomb's tenure.

The top five agencies in terms of employees are the Department of Correction, Department of Child Services; Family and Social Services Administration; Department of Transportation and the Indiana State Police. They total almost 19,500 employees. The rest are spread out over about 70 other departments and agencies. 

The Indiana Department of Correction is allocated 6,398 positions but almost 1,300 are currently unfilled, spokesman David Bursten said. He said the goal is to be within 10% of operational staffing needs, which would be met with an additional 693 employees.

The corrections agency has consistently been losing employees since a high of 6,147 in August 2016. The number of inmates grew by several thousand in recent years but has recently come back down to about 25,417.

Bursten said the work is challenging and requires a specific set of skills and worker traits. A recruitment and retention division was created in 2017, and numerous job and career fairs have been hosted.

“We are competing for the same limited number of qualified employees being sought by other public safety agencies and the pandemic has heightened the challenge to recruit the quality employees we seek,” Bursten said, noting Hoosiers can apply online for positions.

The Department of Child Services has seen the most growth in employee positions following an outside review of the agency after concerns about exploding caseloads and budget penny-pinching.

In January 2016, the agency had 3,646 employees, and now that number is 4,926. Most of the new hires have been family case managers, who have direct contact with children and families, as well as family case supervisors.

The agency raised salaries and has made internal adjustments – both of which have helped reduce turnover rates from 27% in 2017 to 13% this year. In 2019 the number was 21%.

The Family and Social Services Administration has 3,930 employees. The agency handles benefits for low-income residents and residents with disabilities.

The agency's number of employees stayed relatively stable until March 2019 when it dropped by several hundred. Spokeswoman Marni Lemons said a number of employees were moved to the privately run NeuroDiagnostic Institute from Larue Carter Hospital, a state facility that was closing at that time.

The agency also has a large number of contracted staff – about 2,300. Most of them work for contractor Conduent to staff call centers, which handle eligibility for SNAP, TANF and Medicaid programs.

“We do not have an ideal level of employees. As a metrics-driven organization, we hire the number of people that are required to deliver our programs effectively with the efficiency expected by the taxpayers of Indiana,” Lemons said.

The headcount of 30,918 covers all branches of government – including the legislature and judiciary, as well as separately elected statewide office-holders. Holcomb has no control over staffing in those areas.

Johnston said the executive branch total is about 27,900. In comparison, former Gov. Mitch Daniels finished his tenure with 27,173 executive branch employees, and Vice President Mike Pence finished his term as governor at 26,730, according to Johnston.

When Daniels left office, he touted that Indiana had the fewest state employees per capita in the country and fewer state employees than in 1976.

Pence at one point in his four-year term cut 200 positions through attrition to lower the number.

Johnston didn't know how many contract employees the state has, noting sometimes it makes sense to privatize. He said the Indiana Department of Revenue relied for years on contractors and after an internal analysis realized it could save money, so the department brought in about 80 people as state employees.

At a glance

The agencies with the most employees, according to the Indiana Transparency Portal, are as follows:

• Department of Correction – 5,351

• Department of Child Services – 4,926

• Family and Social Services Administration – 3,930*

• Department of Transportation – 3,498

• Indiana State Police – 1,786

• Bureau of Motor Vehicles – 1,464

• Natural Resources – 1,181

*The agency corrected the portal number, saying it didn't accurately capture the agency's employees

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