Lawmakers examine state consultant hiring

Nevada lawmakers were told Tuesday that a review of hundreds of consultants who have held government contracts shows many are now state workers " and eight with current contracts also are getting regular state paychecks.

Nevada Controller Kim Wallin described the review while testifying before the Assembly Government Affairs Committee on AB463, which would restrict state agencies from hiring retired staffers as consultants.

Wallin said the review involved contracts held by 780 individuals, including 300 now working for the state. She plans to continue the review to determine the time frames for the contracts and whether more than eight current employees have current contracts.

The controller said the eight staffers included one with a "professional services" contract for $600,000 over a four-year period.

A former employee had a contract with the state Insurance Division for $4 million over a 9-month period, Wallin said, adding that the contract could have been for a group of individuals working for the person with the contract. She didn't name any of the contract-holders.

"Because of hiring freezes, many agencies are forced to hire consultants, because work still needs to be done," Wallin said. "That's something that you as legislators need to look at."

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, said she has received e-mails from constituents complaining about consultants who are paid two or three times more than salaried employees, which prompted her to introduce AB463.

Smith also said the state was hiring back retirees at "virtually the same time" that they left their jobs. AB463 also would require agencies to report who was hired and how much they were paid. The bill also would allow former state employees to be rehired under special circumstances, such as unexpected illness of employees.

"People either want to be working or they want to be retired, and they should only come back under certain circumstances," Smith said. "We want to make sure our taxpayer dollars are being used well."

Smith also said she attended a workshop run by state-hired consultants where participants made collages from magazines.

"We spend thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, on these meetings and we make collages," Smith said. "Where is the accountability there?"

State Transportation Director Susan Martinovich said her agency hired the consultants who ran that meeting, and those contracts have ended.

Martinovich, along with other state agency heads, expressed concern that the measure would add extra time to a process that she said already has a lot of checks and balances. She added that the state Transportation Board reviews all her agency's consultant contracts.

"The use of consultants takes directly away from putting pavement on projects," Martinovich said. "But there are times when we have to."

Kareen Masters of the Health and Human Services Department said it's beneficial to hire former state employees because of their experience and knowledge.

But lawmakers challenged the idea.

"If someone is getting ready to retire, shouldn't they be training their replacement before they retire?" asked Assemblywoman Peggy Pierce, D-Las Vegas.

"When I started in my early days, as a bus girl, I worked my way up, I learned to wash dishes," said Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-Las Vegas. "Are we so ridiculous these days that we don't cross-train people?"

But lawmakers were told that because of union rules and contracts, cross-training is limited in government offices.

"There's no money to do it, and contracts will not allow you to do it," said Assemblyman Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas.

Proponents of the bill said that rehiring former employees as consultants also limited upward mobility of employees.

Assemblywoman Ellen Spiegel, D-Henderson, said that she owns a staffing agency, and could foresee that former state employees could get around the rules by being hired through an agency. But Smith said that the reporting requirements would make that kind of abuse apparent.

"The numbers are staggering," said Dennis Mallory, representing AFSCME Local 4041. "We knew there was an issue, but wow."

"Over the last 20 or 30 years, I think this Legislature has put tremendous pressure on government to not ask for more employees," Pierce said. "I think we're part of the problem."


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