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Staff proposes new data system for Human Resources department

Friday, February 28, 2014 by Michael Kanin

City of Austin human resources staff told Council members Thursday that the department’s antiquated record keeping was responsible for a host of potential risks – many of which have been identified in various internal city audits. These issues included the potential of “rehiring high-risk employees due to a lack of system tracking,” delays in verifying federal I9 forms, and communication problems related to sharing information about criminal background checks and drug and alcohol testing.


Staff’s proposed solution to the problem is a potentially expensive, centralized data system. Council Members Laura Morrison and Chris Riley agreed.


Though Council members did their best to circle around some measure of what funding they might need to set aside for the program, city staff was reluctant to specify a figure. “I think it’s safe to say that it is somewhat premature to” talk about costs, said Assistant City Manager Rey Arellano.


However, the city’s Chief Financial Officer Elaine Hart did suggest the sort of approach the city might take to fund the purchase. “We would look toward a combination of allocations to all departments city-wide that would benefit from a new Human Capital System, as well as looking towards what kind of software we could purchase,” she said. “To the extent that we could purchase software instead of leasing it or having a service for a while, we could certainly finance it over a shorter period – not issue…bonds, but issue contractual obligations, which are generally a five-to-seven year life.”


Hart’s statement intimates that funding for the project would not be limited only to the city’s general fund. Such an approach would appear to include the city’s enterprise funds – Austin Energy and the Austin Water Utility – among departments that would bear significant cost.


That city officials are considering such robust funding options could reveal the level of expected expense for the project. Council Member Mike Martinez asked staff to put together reports of how other peer cities invested in a Human Capital System.


Staff’s statements came during a briefing to Council on the proposed Human Capital Management system – the professional term for such an item. Their pitch came with a proposed year-long RFP process. When Riley questioned staff about the seemingly long timeframe of that process, city consultants insisted that the time was required in order to get full responses to the bid and for complete vetting of the candidates.


Several recent audits have pointed at issues with the city’s Human Resources Department. These included findings that city officials were not necessarily keeping track of criminal convictions of employees or potential employees. That brought some level of concern from Morrison and Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole – over the fact that the auditor’s office ignored what has been termed as a ban the box provision. That item, an effort that removed a box asking if potential employees had been convicted of a crime, was adopted amid concern about providing jobs for the hard-to-employ.

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