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Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal brings out his fire extinguisher during his speech at the Atlanta Press Club on April 30, 2013. The governor was prepared to put out the flames of any “Pants on Fire” violator. (AJC photo/Jason Getz) Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal brings out his fire extinguisher during his speech at the Atlanta Press Club on April 30, 2013. The governor was prepared to put out the flames of any “Pants on Fire” violator. (AJC photo/Jason Getz)

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal brings out his fire extinguisher during his speech at the Atlanta Press Club on April 30, 2013. The governor was prepared to put out the flames of any “Pants on Fire” violator. (AJC photo/Jason Getz)

By Janel Davis May 24, 2013

Portrait of state government workers has gaps

During a speech last month at the Atlanta Press Club, Gov. Nathan Deal lauded state workers for what they do and for doing it without pay increases. In fact, it’s been six years since an across-the-board merit pay bump, he said. And that’s led to some negative results.

"The state of Georgia lost 16 percent of our employees last year and that percentage has risen over the last three years," Deal said. "So when people are being siphoned off out of state government into private business because the salaries are so much more favorable, then those are things the state has to be cognizant of."

We wanted to know more about Deal’s 16 percent claim, so we decided to check it out.

Deal spokesman Brian Robinson provided us a chart showing the turnover trend of employees leaving state government for fiscal years 2002 through 2012. The chart was produced by the state’s Department of Administrative Services, which acts as the central human resources agency for state employees. The numbers showed:

Fiscal year        % of state workforce          state jobs

2012                16.43%        70,197

2011                15.60%        71,837

2010                13.84%        77,934

2009                13.62%        82,001

The state workforce figures for fiscal years 2009 and 2010 include part-time employees. But that amount is likely very small. For example, it accounted for 119 employees in fiscal 2012.

So the governor was correct in his three years assessment. But what do those numbers mean?

His statement was made in the context of employees leaving the state for better private-sector jobs. But do the turnover numbers only count those employees, or do they also include people who’ve left for other reasons?

For answers, we went to Candy Sarvis, deputy commissioner of the human resources division of the Administrative Services Department. Sarvis could only provide detailed information on the fiscal 2012 data, which her department compiled. Data before then were compiled by the now-defunct State Personnel Administration. Sarvis’ division used the data prior to fiscal 2012 as it was presented and didn’t go back to verify the numbers, she said.

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For fiscal 2012, Sarvis said, the percentages include all full-time, benefit-eligible employees who have left their jobs voluntarily, as well as through firings, layoffs, retirements, etc.

Also of note, the percentages do not account for employees of the University System of Georgia or the Board of Regents for that system. The University System employed 43,020 workers in fiscal 2012, but no information on employee turnover was available, a spokesman said.

Also, based on provided jobs numbers, the decrease in state workers was about 14 percent over the past four fiscal years. And from fiscal 2011 to 2012 the drop in jobs was just 2 percent, which is likely to mean that many of the open or vacated positions were filled.

For the state turnover data provided, the turnover trend was higher in the years leading up to the recession but dropped during the recession.

Georgia’s trends mirror national trends, according to data compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nationally, the turnover rate for all levels of government is about 16 percent.

Gary Burtless, a senior economics fellow with the Brookings Institution, has studied the data.

The quit rate -- or the number of employees who quit during a month as a percentage of total employment -- remains lower in the public sector than the private sector, according to multiyear BLS data compiled by Burtless. The quit rate has edged up, he said, but for both sectors, it is still lower than it was in the decade before the recession.

"If experienced workers are afraid to quit their jobs, there is less pressure on employers -- including public employers -- to grant their employees sizable wage increases," Burtless said.

Deal also discussed the state’s workforce last year. He touted personnel cuts made by his administration, but he left out University System data that changed the numbers and his statement was rated Mostly False.

So, do Deal’s figures add up this time around?

The governor said that 16 percent of the state government’s workforce was "lost" during the past fiscal year. Deal made the comments in the context of how employees receiving no raises has affected the state’s workforce, which has decreased the past four fiscal years.

A closer look at the numbers shows that Deal’s 16 percent figure also includes employees who have left their positions through layoffs, retirement, and other reasons -- including voluntary resignations. And in the case of voluntary resignations, the state doesn’t track information on these employees to determine whether they left for other jobs. Also, the figure doesn’t include data for most of the state’s colleges and Board of Regents.

Deal’s statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details and context.

We rated his claim Half True.

Our Sources

Atlanta Press Club luncheon speech, Gov. Nathan Deal, April 30, 2013

Email interview/information, Brian Robinson, spokesman, Gov. Nathan Deal, May 3, 2013

Phone interview, Candy Sarvis, deputy commissioner, State Human Resources Administration, May 13, 2013

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Job Openings and Labor Turnover summary-March 2013, published May 7, 2013

Email exchange and labor charts, Gary Burtless, senior fellow of economic studies, Brookings Institution, May 15, 2013

PolitiFact Georgia, "Cuts to state workforce not as steep as Deal said," Chris Joyner, June 2, 2012

The University System of Georgia, annual financial report FY 2012, published Jan. 17, 2013

Email exchange, John Millsaps, spokesman, University System of Georgia, May 16, 2013

State of Georgia, 2012 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, Schedule 13, State Government Employment by Function, page 240

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Portrait of state government workers has gaps

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