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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, June 25, 2009

OHA may lay off up to 24 workers

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Clyde Nämu‘o

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The Office of Hawaiian Affairs will likely lay off between nine and 24 employees in August, administrator Clyde Namu'o said yesterday.

Because nearly all of OHA's $39.5 million operating budget comes from its own revenue sources and not the state's general fund, the agency is mostly exempt from Gov. Linda Lingle's edict that state agencies furlough employees to reduce their budgets by 13.8 percent.

Lingle, nonetheless, asked state agencies outside her direct management authority, including the Judiciary and OHA, to implement similar cuts.

OHA for the past 18 months has been reviewing its budget for potential savings, including not filling job vacancies and eliminating noncritical positions "in anticipation that the current economic trends will continue," Namu'o said.

"The governor's request presents us with another opportunity for us to continue that review," he said.

OHA is the only state agency talking about layoffs as opposed to furloughs.

Namu'o said while OHA trustees were consulted, the decision was his alone. "I decided not to participate in the furlough program because I believe that our ability to serve Native Hawaiian beneficiaries would be adversely impacted if OHA, for example, were to close its doors three days a month."

He added: "In looking at a reduction in force, I believe this presents OHA with an opportunity to analyze our current positions and determine which ones are essential to carrying out the mission of bettering the conditions of Native Hawaiians."

OHA has the equivalent of 167.5 full-time employees. A 13.8 percent cut to OHA's personnel budget would mean cutting 24 positions, OHA officials said. But there are currently 15 vacancies, so there could be as few as nine layoffs. The actual amount will be determined following a detailed analysis of positions. Decisions will be made by Aug. 1, Namu'o told employees during a staffwide meeting on Tuesday.

OHA's investment portfolio has shrunk dramatically during the recent financial downturn. From Dec. 31, 2007, to Oct. 21, 2008, for instance, the value of the Native Hawaiian Trust Fund shrank from $444.3 million to $320.4 million, a 27.9 percent decline.

Namu'o said that while the portfolio has improved since then, it is still not where it was in December 2007.

He noted that OHA already has seen $2.5 million cut from its original 2010 budget and $1.7 million from the fiscal 2011 budget.