The Chief-Leader Despite City Efforts, Provisional Rolls Creeping Up in Defiance of Mandate by Dan Rosenblum

The Chief-Leader
The Chief-Leader
Despite City Efforts, Provisional Rolls Creeping Up in Defiance of Mandate
Dan Rosenblum

Despite City Efforts, Provisional Rolls Creeping Up in Defiance of Mandate

·         By DAN ROSENBLUM


Department of Citywide Administrative Services officials said last week that they would request more time to reduce the number of provisionals working for the city in order to comply with a nine-year-old court ruling.

Though the agency has an end-of-the-year deadline to bring down provisionals by 8,600, new hires by the de Blasio administration, worker attrition and the number of employees aging into retirement eligibility have contributed to the growth of workers who haven’t passed civil-service tests.

Step Forward, Two Back

During a March 14 City Council hearing, DCAS Commissioner Lisette Camilo said that despite a “slight uptick” of 98 provisionals to 23,052 as of last month, the agency would try to pare the total to 18,000. She said that the agency made progress by addressing about 1,400 of the initial pool of 22,000 non-civil-service employees and was working to certify another 5,200 provisionals who have passed tests for their titles by the end of the year.

“We are on track to make significant gains,” said Ms. Camilo, who replaced Stacey Cumberbatch in January. “Given the city’s operational needs, however, agencies have had to make hires during this time as well. So, unfortunately the numbers of provisionals that we have addressed through our plan has been outpaced by the backfills of vacancies that agencies have had to operationalize and hire up for.”

The agency’s Deputy Commissioner for Human Capital, Dawn Pinnock, said DCAS would request more time to cut the number of temporary employees serving in more than 700 titles.

“The capacity that we have to administer 740 exams, that’s not realistic,” she said. “So we’re taking a second look at our plan [and] looking at devising a plan that is more robust in nature to address that larger number.”

DCAS must steeply reduce the number of city employees who haven’t passed civil-service exams following the 2007 Long Beach decision by the state Court of Appeals. That ruling upheld the civil-service law which limited provisional appointments to nine months. The following year, the Bloomberg administration created a five-year plan to shift 7,000 to permanent status and to move 1,600 workers to civil-service titles, which was extended in 2014 by the state Civil Service Commission.

Speeding Test Process

To goose the reduction bring­ing down the number of provisionals to “as few as 14,273,” DCAS planned to hold more civil-service exams, speed test-processing times and schedule tests to anticipate agencies’ hiring needs.

But though the number of total provisional workers was down to roughly 21,500 last March, the rolls grew as the de Blasio administration took on new employees. From July to October 2015, their ranks grew by 633 because of new Occupational Therapists and Administrative Education Officers in the Department of Education; seasonal Playground Associates in the Department of Parks and Recreation; Car Inspectors at NYC Transit; and Bridge and Tunnel Officers at the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, according to its latest update to Albany.

The median time it took between giving an exam and certifying the list increased by four months in the first quarter of this fiscal year over the same period last year. DCAS said that was because a Sanitation Worker exam, the largest in 25 years, drew more than 90,000 applicants, and managerial exams elicited more than 2,500 protests from test-takers seek­ing to challenge some of the answers.

Wait ’til End of ’17?

Councilman Ben Kallos, who chairs the Governmental Operations Committee, said in an interview that he expected DCAS to meet its target by the end of next year.

“If they’re able to turn 5,000 provisionals into civil servants in one year, that sets the tone and we should be able to get down to zero in the next three to four years,” he said, adding that capping an extension at one year would be the “responsible” option.

“Because that is the only part that can be planned for by this current administration or even by me,” said Mr. Kallos, who was elected in 2013. “We are guaranteed until the end of 2017 for our first term, and anything else should not be taken for granted.”

The Manhattan Councilman said that he requested the agency share whether there was an overlap between titles with provisional appointments and those with lists. “I will be looking to ensure—and the state should be looking to ensure—that no provisional is hired into a new title where there was an existing exam administered with somebody waiting months, if not years, to be hired into that position,” he said.

DCAS officials said they would be willing to include the number of provisionals in the Mayor’s Management Report, an annual agency report card. “If we see in September, when the MMR comes out, that those numbers aren’t there, you better believe we’ll be having an oversight hearing to see why we’re falling behind,” Mr. Kallos said.

DCAS officials said the department administered rec­ord levels of exams. It is also expanding computer-based testing centers by 165 seats. It is scheduled to open a 153-seat center in Queens and is looking into sites in The Bronx and Staten Island.

Councilman I. Daneek Mil­ler in December proposed a resolution to create a web portal for job applicants seeking to track their application status. The legislation, which has eight other co-sponsors, is in the Civil Service and Labor Committee, which Mr. Miller chairs.

Ms. Camilo said DCAS supported the goals of the proposal, but officials were studying how the system would work and how much it would cost. “Right now, all of the functions that the proposed resolution presents live in a number of disparate IT systems, so we need to connect all of those together and put it online,” she said.