OPM told to explain furlough process

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CITING complaints from furloughed government employees, the Senate Fiscal Affairs Committee on Wednesday asked Office of Personnel Management officials to shed light on the issue.

Acting OPM Director Frances Salas, who appeared before the committee with Civil Service Commission Chairman Ray Muna, said a total of 513 government employees — 281 civil service employees and 231 appointed/excepted service employees — were furloughed.

She said the furlough memos were issued by the departments and agencies and not by OPM which provided furlough guidelines only.

Sen. Sixto K. Igisomar asked how the furloughed employees were  selected.

“The grievances are hitting us here in the Senate already,” he added. “We tried to help them as much as we can through legislation, but the attorney general told us it’s [under] OPM and the Civil Service Commission’s authority.”

He said many of the furloughed employees believed they were singled out or were discriminated against.

Senate Floor Leader Justo S. Quitugua, who said his office was inundated with calls from furloughed employees, said many of them felt they were furloughed because of their political affiliations or family ties.

He told OPM officials that the list of furloughed employees indicates that the selection was “based on their last names.”

He said he understands that the department and agency heads made the selection, but added that OPM and the Civil Service Commission should “stand with the civil service employees and not with the department heads.”

Sens. Vinnie Sablan and Frank Cruz said they, too, received calls from furloughed employees,  including those who have served in the government for 20 years or longer. They want OPM to explain the furlough process.

Acting OPM Director Frances Salas said because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the CNMI government anticipated a sharp drop in its revenue collections and had to implement drastic measures to ensure that critical government operations and services would continue.

In early April, she said several meetings took place between OPM, the administration, the Office of the Attorney General along with the governor’s legal counsel and special assistant for administration.

“Instructions came down from the administration to cut personnel cost by 48% or close to 50%, so with that being said, a decision was made to implement emergency furlough action due to the severe impact of the reduction of…revenues,” Salas said.

She said department and agency heads were instructed to keep their offices open with a limited number of staff. “It was impressed upon the department and agency heads that services to the community needed to continue. Therefore, the goal was to keep essential employees that are knowledgeable and are able to multi-task.”

Salas said once the departments and agencies drew up their lists, furlough notices and termination notices were issued. The civil service employees were given seven days notice while the excepted service employees were issued 30 to 60 days notices.

She also said that the Reduction in Force procedures for the excepted employees could not be implemented due to the time involved to actually perform an RIF analysis.

Salas said OPM is now moving forward with an RIF analysis in the event the government has to implement more drastic measures.



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