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State review faults long-term ‘temp’ jobs

Some state agencies have routinely used temporary workers to circumvent restrictions on hiring traditional staff, a tactic that costs the state money and creates sharp differences in the ways government workers are treated, according to a report by Inspector General Glenn Cunha’s office.

The Dec. 20 report found dozens of “temporary” workers who had been employed by the state for years, including 10 who have worked for the state for more than a decade and 20 more who have worked for state government for at least five years.

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In one case, a manager attended a retirement party for a popular longtime worker — only to later learn the retiree was actually a temp worker.

And State Police officials told investigators they hired a staffer in the accounting department as a part-time temp — after she retired with a state pension in 2002 — so that she could train her replacement. But that arrangement has persisted for the past 11 years.

“For many years, state agencies have misused the temporary help services contracts,” Cunha’s report said.

The report found the Patrick administration spends about $10.2 million a year on temporary staffing firms and had 361 temp workers in October, including roughly 100 who had been working for the state for at least a year.

Though the spending is a tiny slice of the $34 billion state budget, the Executive Office of Administration and Finance said it plans to release a new policy by the end of the year to address the issue.

“This policy makes clear that agencies can only hire temporary workers on a short-term basis,” said Alex Zaroulis, an agency spokeswoman, who said the administration began work on the new policy last year.

“We welcome the inspector general’s report, as it will certainly be helpful as we refine and implement this policy to ensure that taxpayer dollars are being spent effectively.”

The state has more than 80,000 full-time workers. But the inspector general primarily focused on agencies that use staffing firms the most.

Several managers told investigators they were forced to rely on temporary workers because they were barred from hiring additional permanent employees or because the normal hiring procedures were too cumbersome.

For instance, many of the longest-serving temps work for the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission, reviewing disability benefits for the Social Security Administration, because the federal government has capped the number of full-time staff the unit can hire.

Similarly, the Patrick administration, hoping to keep the budget in check, has limited the number of workers agencies can hire, prompting some departments to use temp workers to “get around” the cap.

In some cases, the inspector general found that agencies correctly used temporary workers for short-term or seasonal hires.

But the inspector general said several agencies wound up paying extra fees to staffing firms for long-term jobs or hires they could have handled internally.

For instance, the Group Insurance Commission went through the process of recruiting interns and a retiree — but hired them through a temporary staffing agency, allowing the company to collect an extra fee for every hour they worked.

The state has a contract with Resource Connection Inc., a staffing firm, which imposes as much as a 40 percent markup on workers’ wages. So if a worker earns $15 per hour, the staffing firm will bill the state for $21 per hour and keep the other $6.

The inspector general found other problems, including cases in which state agencies incorrectly paid temp workers for holidays and gave pay raises to temp workers.

The report also found the state rarely tried to negotiate a lower fee with the staffing firm.

The report suggested that the widespread use of temp workers is problematic because those workers generally receive fewer benefits than traditional workers, making it harder to maintain a stable workforce and treat workers equally.

The agency also warned that shorting workers on benefits has a hidden cost, because some workers wound up receiving government assistance.

The inspector general found 14 temp workers receiving help from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, while others probably obtained subsidized health insurance through the state Health Connector.

To curb abuses, the inspector general recommended the state require agencies to provide a written justification for using a temp worker for more than six months and prohibit agencies from using a single temp employee for more than a year.

Todd Wallack can be reached at twallack@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @twallack.
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