Stateline Story

Iowa Centralizing Hiring of State Workers

Iowa has centralized its hiring of state workers, partly in response to a series of lawsuits alleging discriminatory hiring, firing and promotion practices, reports The Des Moines Register .

This week, a class-action lawsuit alleging racial discrimination in human resources decisions at Iowa state agencies went to trial . The suit alleges that as many as 6,000 blacks who applied for jobs or promotions were discriminated against.

The state hopes that by giving human resources staff in the Department of Administrative Services and the Department of Management more control over the hiring process, discriminatory practices can be prevented. According to the Register , the state paid about $850,000 between 2000 to 2006 to nine people who claimed discrimination in state human resource management decisions.

"We've moved back to a centralized process so we can have more consistency in the practices instead of each one of the agencies doing their own thing," Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds told reporters. "It's more of a centralized process so we can make sure this does not happen."

The lawsuit was filed in 2007, when Democrat Chet Culver was governor. Republican Governor Terry Branstad argued that his administration is doing its best to overcome previous management shortcomings.

"We want to make sure there is uniformity and fair treatment," Branstad told the Register . "What we found in the previous administration is there was not regular meetings with department heads and rules were not being reviewed before they were proposed. We're trying to get more uniformity and consistency and fairness in terms of the way things are managed in state government, including hiring."

The move toward centralizing key human resource management functions follows a general national trend, according to a survey of state human resources management agencies released in July by the National Association of State Personnel Executives.

Unlike in Iowa, this national trend is being driven primarily by the need to cut costs by reducing the number of staff responsible for carrying out human resources functions. In the past two years, 30 percent of states that responded to the survey have centralized human resources functions; only 6 percent reported moving in the opposite direction. About 44 percent of respondents were considering future centralization initiatives. 

In most states, including those that have centralized most functions, responsibilities such as workforce planning, training and development are split between centralized staff and human resources staff that are embedded in other agencies.