Minority leader Rep. Edwin K. Propst (Ind-Saipan) expressed disappointment Friday following reports of Cabinet officials submitting requests for overtime authorizations despite the furlough of government employees.
In April, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Civil Service Commission’s Office of Personnel Management furloughed employees to reduce government personnel costs by half. It was also deemed “necessary to be terminate” all excepted service employees, other than those federally funded or exempted by the governor.
Last week, a leaked CSC document showed a request and authorization for 41 hours of overtime work for Public Safety Commissioner Robert A. Guerrero, for COVID-19 safety and security operations, signed by the governor.
“After all the illegal overtime that was paid out after Super Typhoon Yutu, with all the abuses that occurred, so much so that over $10 million of overtime that was paid for by local taxpayer dollars was never reimbursed by [Federal Emergency Management Agency], the illegal overtime continues to happen, and this time it is under another disaster, COVID-19,” Propst said.
The lawmaker, citing the CNMI experience during Yutu where “some Cabinet members received up to $36,000 in overtime,” said that provisions of the Compensation and Work Schedules and the Compensation of Certain Appointed Officials make it unallowable for Cabinet officials to receive overtime pay.
Propst also stressed that it is inexcusable to claim overtime for hours when the officials should be normally working, and that those earning much higher salaries than front-line workers are expected to work extra hours.
Responding to this, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres said that it is not just Guerrero’s request that he signed, but all of the Cabinet members.
“It’s not just DPS. I signed all of the Cabinet [members’] overtime. Those are overtime hours worked. I wanted to make sure that their hours are also calculated, and it is only right for me to make sure that their hours are signed and calculated,” he said.
No payment has been paid yet, as according to the governor, as they want to make sure that lower ranked employees get paid first. FEMA also has yet to approve whether those overtime requests are covered under the reimbursable funds.
“There’s a lot of employees that work on this COVID-19. Whether those overtime [hours] are covered under FEMA is yet to be approved by FEMA, and that’s why [in the case of] the overtime [of] Cabinet [members], we want to make sure that all our employees who’s worked overtime are justified for reimbursements first, before moving forward to the Cabinet members,” he said.
With FEMA rules and regulations governing COVID-19 operations, employees are asked to justify their scope of work, line of duty, and hours worked. Employees worked varying hours in different sites addressing issues, especially for the first 60 days, where work was done 24/7.
As for Cabinet members, Torres said that “when teams are getting heated up,” they go to Cabinet members who are responsible in ensuring their departments are run right.
“They work the hours, they’re there constantly making sure that their officers, their employees are doing right and they do work, so they should be paid and they should be calculated on the hours put,” he added.
‘They’re there to work’
In a message to everyone, including government employees who have been furloughed and claiming and calling out the government for unfairness, Torres explained that all those requesting for overtime authorization are working disaster hours.
“They shouldn’t be discouraged because the work that has been put into this COVID[-19], these are disaster hours. …Again, none of them are being paid now, but their hours are being calculated, which rightfully so,” he said.
“When you prioritize health care and actions and work needs to be done, those employees, whether they’re Cabinet members or first responders, when work needs to be done, they’re there to work. So it’s only right that their hours are calculated, whether they’re Cabinet members, or someone from [the Department of Public Works] that are at [the Saipan International Airport] doing community based testing or other work,” the governor added.
“I’m sorry that we are where we’re at, that our economy is shut down from COVID[-19], that there’s no tourists coming in, but that’s out of our hands. We can’t do anything about it,” he added.
MD: Torres on overtime issue: These are disaster hours.
KW: Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, overtime, FEMA, COVID-19, furlough.