Raleigh, N.C. — Gov. Pat McCrory has selected hundreds of additional state employees who will soon lose their civil service protections, bringing his roster of at-will workers to about 1,300.
New legislation McCrory signed in August increased his cap on so-called "exempt positions" to 1,500, tripling a limit that has held steady for almost a quarter-century. Exempt employees aren't subject to certain parts of the State Personnel Act, most notably the ability to contest their removal from the job.
McCrory made his first round of exempt designations in July.
Critics say exempt designations make state employees more vulnerable to shifting political influence, undermining what would ideally be an experienced, long-serving civil service corps. Employees in exempt policy-making positions, one of two different types of exempt designations, are even expected by law to be reasonably loyal to the governor.
But McCrory and proponents of the legislative changes, which passed the General Assembly in two separate pieces, say the changes are needed to increase flexibility in state government.
A McCrory spokesperson could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon, but the governor's press office said in a news release that these positions "serve at the will of the governor or his designee because their duties directly affect the execution of the governor’s policies."
However, a WRAL News analysis of the positions McCrory has designated as exempt in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Department of Health and Human Services shows these designations run deep within department hierarchies – in some cases six levels removed from the cabinet secretary.
This new batch of designations is largely consolidated in the two largest cabinet departments, DHHS and the Department of Public Safety, despite adding another three agencies to the list eligible for exemptions.
At DHHS, an agency marred by controversial hires and contracts and the high-profile departure of several members of its leadership team, McCrory has designated another 140 exempt positions. The 530 at-will workers now make up about 3 percent of that total workforce.
Compared with the number of positions former Gov. Beverly Perdue designated in the fall of 2012, McCrory more than doubled the number of exemptions in DPS during this round. That's despite keeping the number almost constant in July.
The governor's office has not yet released the full list of exempt positions.