NEW YORK (PIX11) — New York City government agencies are in the midst of a staffing “vacancy crisis,” creating a “severe lack of capacity to get things done in mission-critical areas,” according to a report issued Tuesday by the office of city Comptroller Brad Lander.
COVID-19’s impact on the labor market, a de Blasio-era hiring freeze, and Adams administration policy are all contributing to the shortfall, according to the nine-page report, which found that the vacancy rate has nearly quadrupled from its pre-pandemic level.
Before the health crisis, about 2% of city positions were unfilled. As of October 2022, that figure had ballooned to just under 8%, the investigation found.
“While it is important to identify positions that are no longer needed, current vacancies appear to be driven far more by where there is private sector competition for workers, rather than by any assessment of need or priority,” according to the report. “The result is a severe lack of capacity to get things done in mission-critical areas, from creating new housing to providing services to low-income children to collecting the revenue the City needs to function.”
At the Department of Small Business Services, 108 of the 337 authorized headcount slots are unfilled, translating to a 32% vacancy rate, according to the report. The city’s Commission on Human Rights has an identical vacancy rate, with 48 of 150 positions unfilled.
Five other agencies have vacancy rates of 20% or higher, according to the report: the Department of Investigation, the Department of Buildings, the Department of City Planning, the city’s Taxi & Limousine Commission, and the Department of Social Services. Within the Department of Social Services, the Child Support Services division has just 415 employees out of an authorized 775 — a “whopping” 46.5% vacancy rate, according to the report.
Like state and local governments across the nation, the city’s workforce suffered “huge losses” during the pandemic and its resulting economic tumult, the report found. Government hiring in general has been slower to rebound than private sector hiring, in part because private companies were more likely to offer remote or hybrid work options, and better equipped to offer wages that account for inflation, according to the findings.
But the groundwork for the issue was laid before the pandemic, when the administration of then-Mayor Bill de Blasio imposed a hiring freeze on most city agencies, Lander’s office concluded. Even when the federal government came through with significant pandemic relief to help keep municipal governments running, the de Blasio administration lagged in hiring. They first implemented a “3-for-1” rule — allowing agencies to hire one employee for every three vacancies — before eventually shifting to a “2-for-1” model.
Under Mayor Eric Adams, the city’s Office of Management and Budget continues to put off hiring as a means to save on the budget, Lander’s office found. For example, last month OMB announced that it was suspending 2-for-1 hiring, only to direct agencies to eliminate half of existing civilian vacancies as of Oct. 31, according to the report. City Hall did not immediately respond to a request for comment from PIX11 News.
As part of the report, Lander’s office made nine recommendations to help remedy the staffing shortfall. They include expediting the hiring process for approved positions, assessing rates of pay and other barriers to recruiting and retaining talent, creating greater flexibility for hybrid work schedules where possible, and establishing a city Chief Talent Officer dedicated to solving the hiring crunch.