UPDATE: This headline and article were updated after City Hall said Tuesday that it had not walked back its position on a hiring freeze. A previous version of this article reported that the city comptroller interpreted a letter from the city’s budget director as announcing there was a shift in its current hiring policy. The Adams administration has clarified that, in fact, there has not been a change.
A recent letter from City Hall that sought to clarify a hiring freeze order has instead created confusion, leading one elected official to mistakenly assume that the Adams administration was walking back its policy amid a staffing shortage.
The hiring freeze was first announced last week as part of across-the-board budget cuts that Mayor Eric Adams said was necessary to address a looming fiscal crisis.
Some lawmakers immediately opposed the measure. While city Comptroller Brad Lander expressed support for the budget cuts – which call for a 3% reduction in the current fiscal year and a 4.75% cut in each of the following years – he said adding a hiring freeze would be a “real mistake.”
“We're already having a lot of problems hiring people for a whole range of essential city services and programs,” Lander told Gothamist in an interview on Monday.
Lander expressed his concerns in a letter sent Friday to Jacques Jiha, the director of the city’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
Late Monday, Jiha wrote to Lander that agencies that were “welcome to share acceptable PEG plans before the September 30 submission deadline, which will unpause PEG-related hiring limitations.”
PEG stands for “Program to Eliminate the Gap,” which calls for agencies to make spending cuts without layoffs or impacting services.
Lander interpreted the line as saying that agencies would be free to hire as long as they submitted their budget plans.
His office responded by issuing a statement from him saying, “I'm grateful that -- in response to our letter -- OMB has clarified that the hiring freeze will lift when they receive the agencies' savings plans rather than after approval of PEG plans as their original letter stated.”
However, on Tuesday, Jonah Allon, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office, said the hiring freeze policy remained in place as stated in OMB’s original letter and that no change had been announced in its letter to Lander.
Asked about the matter, Naomi Dann, a spokesperson for the comptroller’s office, said City Hall appears to be sending mixed messaging on its policy.
“We remain concerned that imposing a hiring freeze at this time will further delay filling critical vacancies that may impact services for New Yorkers,” Dann wrote in a statement to Gothamist on Tuesday.
Many city agencies are struggling with large staffing shortages, with some leading to slowdowns in key services that include affordable housing and public health services. The City Council recently convened a hearing to address the hiring crisis and pressed city officials on what they could do to speed up hiring for critical positions.
Those who work in the city say a confluence of factors have made it difficult for the city to hire, including a more competitive labor market, the lack of a remote or hybrid work option, and a relatively recent practice of lowballing new hires.
Adams has been steadfast in asserting that the city needs to take austerity measures, including lowering its municipal headcount.
During an unrelated press conference Monday morning, the mayor said experts were saying that the city was about to enter a “financial typhoon.”
In his initial statement Monday, Lander said he appreciated the clarification by the administration, but said he remained “concerned about the growing vacancy rates and lack of urgency to address them.”
He added, “A robust economic recovery for NYC requires having the personnel necessary to provide vital city services, from sanitation to building inspection.”