Government-sector retirees who return to the Delaware state payroll are collecting $17 million a year in salaries, according to a new report from the state auditor's office.
Auditor Tom Wagner said he was surprised by the amount of wages being paid to so-called "double dippers," whose ranks include Cabinet-level officials, school teachers and several state lawmakers.
Wagner acknowledged Monday that it makes sense in some circumstances for the state to rehire pensioners, but he questioned the extent of the practice.
"Does $17 million worth seem to be excessive, absolutely," said Wagner, adding that he expected the total spent on salaries for pensioners to be less than half that amount.
"When you look at dollars of that magnitude, you certainly want to question it," he said. "That doesn't mean there's abuse."
Wagner cautioned that in reviewing a list compiled by his office, officials discovered that it may include retirees who came back to work for the state immediately without collecting a pension and thus would not be collecting both pension and salary income.
But his office nevertheless has recommended that the Markell administration conduct a statewide review of rehired retiree positions to determine which are truly needed and which can be eliminated.
"The state practice of rehiring individuals immediately following retirement is directly related to poor transition workforce and resource planning at the state," the auditor's report stated.
Joe Rogalsky, spokesman for Gov. Jack Markell, said the administration is aware of the issue and is examining retiree rehiring as part of efforts to reduce the size of state government.
"We think that it's a significant problem; we think it's a significant issue, and it's one we're looking at closely as part of the governor's overall goal of making government smaller," he said.
Among the more than 1,100 names on the list of double dippers in fiscal 2009 are acting attorney general Richard Gebelein, who is a retired judge; former state Senate leader Thomas Sharp, who was replaced earlier this year as labor secretary; and former health and social services secretary Vince Meconi, who is being paid to assist Lt. Gov. Matt Denn in monitoring and maximizing the use of federal stimulus funds in Delaware.
Meconi, who came under intense criticism in his former job for problems at the state-run psychiatric center, was supposed to work only three months in his new position, but he remains on the payroll. Administration officials have said work on the applications for stimulus fund has taken longer than expected.
Wagner said his decision to review the practice of double-dipping was not prompted by Meconi's situation, but he refused to say whether he thought Meconi's hiring was necessary.
"The lieutenant governor and the governor do," he said.
Rogalsky defended Meconi's hiring and noted that, in some cases, including Meconi's, the state saves money by hiring pensioners because it does not incur additional costs for benefits, such has health care.
House Majority Leader Pete Schwartzkopf, a retired state trooper who collects both his pension and his legislative salary, agrees.
"When I retired, my health care went with me," he said. "With me, it saves them money."
Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth said it makes good sense for the state to hire retirees for some jobs, such as substitute teaching, but that certain changes should be considered.
Schwartzkopf said, for example, that if a retiree is hired for a job that includes a salary range, the person should start at the bottom of that range and not have a salary that rewards him for his experience.
"You're being paid for your experience in your pension," he said.