NY City Agencies Face Staff Shortages: 20+ Percent Vacancy in Critical Positions

By A Correspondent
A boat of NYC Ferry Service in the East River. (Pakistan Week photo)
New York City agencies are facing growing staff shortages. Seven large mayoral agencies, off about 72 agencies, have vacancy rates above 20%, and departments within agencies that provide essential services, such as inspecting buildings or administering childhood public assistance have vacancy rates between 29% and 46%.

The startling revelations have been made by New York City Comptroller Brad Lander in a new report. Title Vacant is a snapshot of the latest City agency workforce data and the impact of high vacancy rates on essential city services. The report says post-pandemic shifts in the labor market as well as decisions made by City Hall under the previous and current administrations accelerated a national trend in a declining public workforce.

“From building inspectors who address dangerous conditions, to tech workers who prevent cyberattacks, to social workers who support children’s wellbeing, vacancies in City agencies are putting our city at risk,” a press release quoted Comptroller Brad Lander as saying. “Right-sizing the City workforce to meet our budget needs can and must be done with a more strategic eye toward protecting essential services for New Yorkers.”

According to the office of New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, New York City employs the largest municipal workforce in the United States. Prior to the pandemic, the City government (which, unlike many local governments, includes its schools) employed about 300,400 full-time employees.

The overall city workforce vacancy rate is at 7.9%, driven by relatively low vacancy rates at uniformed and pedagogical services, with Fire at 2.7% vacant, Police at 4.8%, and Education at 7.4%. However, the 35 mayoral agencies with a headcount over 100 have a vacancy rate of 14.9%.

According to NYC Comptroller’s report, the Department of Buildings (DOB), the largest agency with a greater than 20% percent vacancy rate, has a vacancy rate of 22.7% with 437 unfilled, full-time positions. DOB is responsible for inspecting critical infrastructure for over a million structures, but of the 500 budgeted positions devoted to inspections, the agency only employs 355 (29% vacant). Many other critical agencies have vacancy rates far above the average, including Small Business Services (32%), the Commission on Human Rights (32%), City Planning (22.3%), the Department of Social Services (20%), Housing Preservation and Development (18.2%), and the Department of Finance (18.1%).

The Comptroller recommended measures to accelerate hiring, improve retention, and right-size the workforce more strategically to advance the City’s ability to deliver high-quality services to all New Yorkers:

  1. Expedite hiring for approved positions;
  1. Allow agencies to hire within their budgets at salaries within the range, rather than the minimum posted;
  1. Analyze pay and other barriers in hard-to-recruit or retain positions;
  1. Report hiring outcomes for transparency;
  1. Instruct agencies to plan for attrition over longer-term cycles;
  1. Allow hybrid work in appropriate titles;
  1. Create new technology civil service titles;
  1. Share talent among agencies;
  1. Appoint a Chief Talent Officer.

Comptroller Lander continued, “The greatest city in the world attracts talent from everywhere, so it’s only right that its local government should also recruit and retain the best. These measures should jumpstart our shared efforts to confront the workforce challenge our city faces to deliver on-budget, on-time services.”

Previously, Comptroller Lander expressed his concerns about the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) directives on vacancies and hiring.

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