Originally posted at Voice of San Diego.
By Lisa Halverstadt.

You could conceive and give birth in the time it takes to hire a new city worker, according to a recent city audit.

Reviewers found it took an average of about 280 days to hire a new employee, far surpassing best practices — guidelines for federal agencies, for example, call for hiring staffers within 80 days. They presented the report to the city’s audit committee Thursday.

The audit comes amid city discussions about the reality that roughly 3,000 city workers will be eligible to retire within the next five years, requiring a significant uptick in recruiting after hiring freezes and cutbacks that slowed such efforts.

Personnel Director Hadi Dehghani, whose department currently handles about 60 percent of the hiring process, said they’ve made significant improvements the auditors didn’t capture in their review.

“This was their report,” Dehghani said at Thursday’s audit committee meeting. “They wanted to look at the data they wanted to look at.”

To conduct their study, auditors randomly selected 215 new city workers from five city divisions, including the police and transportation departments, as well as clerical staffers. All participated in the city hiring process between January and September of this year.

Auditors assumed the hiring clock started ticking when the employees submitted a job application and tracked their progress through the selection process.

What the audit found

They found, on average, that it took 282 days to hire a police or firefighter and 273 days for other city workers.

The audit described, among other conclusions:

• A lack of deadlines for job candidates to complete necessary assessments.

• Long periods where applicants remained in queue without updates from city recruiters.

• Repeated instances where city departments received lists of eligible candidates but took weeks to conduct interviews and make job offers. The latter process took almost four months, on average.

• At least some improved coordination between the personnel department and the city’s public safety departments, particularly with police officials.

What auditors recommend

Auditors suggested the city could cut hiring timelines in half with some changes. They included:

• Adding filters to screen out unqualified applicants, particularly for the police department.

• Creating ideal schedules for testing and other steps in the hiring process, and regularly review whether the city is meeting those targets.

• Having city departments assess their long-term workforce needs to allow the personnel department to establish plans to fill positions in coming years.

Dehghani’s department agreed with most of those recommendations but he was critical of the numbers auditors presented.

He told the audit committee the findings were skewed by the timing of the review. The auditors randomly selected some workers who began the hiring process in 2011, around the time the department implemented a new recruitment system.

Dehghani also criticized the auditors’ decision to incorporate public-safety workers.

“The recruitment for police, for fire and for non-safety (workers) are very, very different,” Dehgani said. “You can’t just throw all of them in there and say by doing that you are going to cut in half the time it takes to hire.”

But the city auditors took up the review in late summer, shortly after police said some applicants waited as long as 14 weeks for a response or update on the next step in the hiring process. The department has expressed frustration about its ability to recruit new officers at a time the force is struggling to replace departing officers.

The auditors began their analysis and selected random samples beginning this August.

The personnel department has since worked on improvements and Deghani said he’s provided new performance numbers to an independent budget analyst who is set to release a separate report next week featuring suggested improvements for the city’s hiring process.

Audit manager Matt Helm acknowledged the hiring processes may have improved but stood by the report. He said auditors relied on data that was available and selected a sample that was statistically responsible. Still, Helm said, the city should focus on improvements that need to be made.

“We’re getting hung up on the data and not what the fix is, not what the problems are,” he said.

Councilman Scott Sherman took the auditors’ side when he questioned Dehghani.

“It sounds like somebody doesn’t like the audit and wants to get away from it,” he said. ”Quite frankly, if we’re taking that long to hire people, there are a lot of really good potential hires that said, ‘Heck with it,’ and looked for other jobs (elsewhere).”

Dehghani said he understood the scrutiny.

“We have done a lot of process improvement,” Dehghani said. “If you are looking at lots of data that is no longer valid, of course you are going to get concerned.”

Just how much progress the personnel department has made isn’t clear. Dehghani couldn’t be reached for comment after the meeting.

The committee decided to table the audit for a month before sending it to the full City Council for further review. They asked Dehghani and two officials with the police and fire departments to send written comments to the city auditor before then.

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