State Rep. Mike Christian, R-Oklahoma City, claims lawmakers “beat the hell out of our state employees all session.” That outburst was prompted by a bill making some state employee jobs at-will positions. In other words, those government employees would face the same job security as the vast majority of Oklahomans in the private sector. Oh the humanity!
Senate Bill 1124 would change positions at 16 state agencies from classified to unclassified positions, allowing those employees to be replaced without a lengthy bureaucratic process.
This isn't unreasonable. Although merit-protection rules were intended to prevent cronyism in state hiring, their practical effect has often been to make it difficult to fire underperforming employees. In other cases, the rules make promotions difficult. And in some cases, such as the Oklahoma Department of Consumer Credit's effort to hire examiners for mortgage broker testing last year, salary regulations made it difficult to hire anyone who was qualified.
Employment at several agencies is already primarily at-will. Examples include the Insurance Department, Office of the Attorney General, the Banking Department, Office of the State Auditor and Inspector, Office of the State Treasurer and the Department of Wildlife Conservation.
Around half the employees at the Tourism and Recreation Department, one agency affected by SB 1124, are already at-will workers. Things seem to be working fine. Why should there suddenly be a problem if 100 percent of tourism employees become at-will?
Furthermore, merit-protection regulations didn't end cronyism. Around 70 percent of Department of Health positions are classified jobs, yet that agency was embroiled in a “ghost employee” scandal several years ago. At least five ex-legislators and 21 relatives of former or current legislators were on the department's payroll at that time.
Granting agency directors greater flexibility in staff management should be a net positive. We doubt many Oklahomans will pity government workers whose job security is changed to simply mirror their own.