The state ignores the need for better spatial planning

For disclosure, I am an officer of the Government Employees Union. I’ve worked for the New Mexico Department of Health for eight years. I came to the state after 32 years in private industry, where I have worked in companies ranging from technology startups to major defense contractors. I’m not new to the business.

The Albuquerque Journal’s recent article, “Report: State Pays Big for Vacant Offices,” sums it up.

The report’s full subtitle reads, “Unutilized space costs the state up to $18 million, pointing to the need for better space planning related to vacancy and telecommuting.”

The state uses its available space too little, and has done so for years.

State authorities plan areas based on budgeted full-time employees (FTE). The FTE vacancy rate is currently 24.5%. Of course, planning based on the budgeted number of FTEs leads to overcrowding of space.

Since the pandemic, up to 38% of government employees have been working remotely on any given day.

The interesting thing about teleworking is that it works. That’s not to say every job can be done remotely, but many can. 38 percent of government employees demonstrate this on any given day.

The State Personnel Office (SPO) LFC program evaluation dated August 17, 2022 specifically refers to telecommuting as a means of retention and recruitment. Yet even as the state struggles with a FTE rate nearing 25%, return to office (RTO) threats dominate staff meetings across the state. There are many rumors of a general call to RTO.

Contrasting empty office space with the impact of the remote work policy for employees on government operations presents telecommuting as a straw man, with the real problem being the inability of lawmakers and the administration to address long-standing hiring, compensation and retention issues.

I predict, based on my experience in the government and private sectors, that if the government issues a general return-to-office order, the number of vacancies in government agencies will rise to 30% within two months.

The real pocket money problem isn’t that the state wastes money on unused space. The real paperback problem is the weak response year after year to SPO’s poor handling of FTE positions and recruitment.

SPO must take a leadership role. The legislature and the administration must help the SPO to address arrears in remuneration and high FTE vacancy rates.

Read the LFC program evaluation reports—high FTE and turnover rates prevent CYFD from preventing repeat child abuse, hinder DOH in drug prevention, result in poor patient outcomes at DOH facilities, and force the correctional department to rely on private prisons . just to name a few. The list is long.

Alan Tway is an IT Business Analyst with the New Mexico Department of Health and Human Services and Executive Secretary of CWA Local 7076, representing government employees.