Oklahoma’s state employee compensation system is as outdated and broken as the workers’ compensation system was in prior to its overhaul, according to state Rep. Leslie Osborn.

“Oklahoma’s compensation system is creating high turnover rates and not giving taxpayers the bang for their buck,” said Osborn, R-Mustang. “We do a lot of antiquated things. I think it is time to begin work on improving the state compensation system.”

The director of Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services said the system could be improved by implementing performance pay and exploring reforms to the state’s benefits package.

“We can’t have a pay discussion without talking about benefits, too. We have to evaluate both. They are the same, single issue,” said OMES Director Preston L. Doerflinger. “The total compensation package for Oklahoma’s state workers is quite handsome because the benefits are rich. The state is compensating heavier on benefits than pay even though today’s worker prefers competitive pay over cushy benefits.”

A third, or 32 percent, of state jobs in Oklahoma are unclassified, according to a consultant who conducted a state-funded study of compensation. Neville Kenning of Kenning Consulting said the number of unclassified employees is “out of control.” The most populated unclassified position is Secretary II, which should not be unclassified, he said.

State base salaries are more than 20 percent below the private sector while benefits are competitive with the private sector, according to the study. Competitive benefits do not make up for the lag in pay, Kenning said.

Fixes to pay disparities should focus on areas with high rates of turnover, lower quality of hires and long waits on filling positions, Kenning said. He recommended against across the board pay increases.

Oklahoma State Treasurer Ken Miller said his office has reformed compensation by reducing staff at the same time as it increases pay for individual employees. The office will again ask state lawmakers for a reduction in its budget, he said.

Gary Ridley, a former agency director of transportation, said outsourcing is a way to reduce staffing costs in certain instances where a problem is temporary and there is no need for a permanent employee.

Lucinda Meltabarger, the administrator of the state’s human capital management system, said the problems in the current state employee compensation system include:

Multiple and fragmented pay plansAn outdated mix of salary and benefitsA slow and burdensome hiring processIneffective pay for performanceLack of transparency 

Osborn said lawmakers want to move forward with reforms and targeted pay increases in the upcoming legislative session.

“While we will be looking at a gradual, multi-year plan, I do believe we have the momentum and data to begin to implement changes in the upcoming session,” Osborn said.