As Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo prepares to unveil an emergency financial reinvention plan for New York State in his address to the Legislature on Wednesday, senior positions remain unfilled throughout the very bureaucracy he is trying to tame, raising questions about the pace of his transition.
Most strikingly, Mr. Cuomo has not yet announced his pick for state budget director, a crucial job in any new administration and one that will take on particular importance as the new governor seeks to close next fiscal year’s budget gap of more than $9 billion, his toughest challenge in the months ahead.
Robert L. Megna, the widely respected budget director under Gov. David A. Paterson, appears to be running the roughly 330-person office day to day. But Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, has not formally appointed him as interim or permanent budget director, even while naming another senior Paterson aide, Lawrence S. Schwartz, to the interim position of senior adviser.
His access to the press appears limited. On Monday, when a reporter spotted Mr. Megna in the newly opened Hall of Governors in the executive chamber, a Cuomo aide grabbed Mr. Megna and ushered him into a private office.
“It’s unusual not to have designated a budget director at this point in a new administration, especially when it seems pretty apparent who it is,” said Edmund J. McMahon, director of the Empire Center for Public Policy. “No one would criticize the governor for reappointing a budget director with Bob Megna’s knowledge and expertise. I think the guy is pretty much universally respected.”
Josh Vlasto, a spokesman for Mr. Cuomo, said: “We are very pleased with our transition process, which is ongoing. We will continue to hire top-flight talent to fill out the administration.”
Mr. Cuomo’s appointments to his executive staff — positions like secretary to the governor and counsel, as well as the deputy secretaries who oversee groups of agencies and departments — have about kept pace with those of the last elected governor, Eliot Spitzer. Like Mr. Spitzer, Mr. Cuomo pulled core members of his executive staff from those who served him at the attorney general’s office, while supplementing them with veterans of previous administrations.
But Mr. Cuomo has lagged behind Mr. Spitzer on appointing or nominating people to leadership positions at the state’s major agencies, departments and authorities, which control billions of dollars in revenue and play a central role in government-led economic development projects.
As of Tuesday, Mr. Cuomo had made just six such appointments or nominations, including choices to lead the State Police and the departments of health and environmental conservation, and the State Dormitory Authority, which provides financing and construction to universities and health care institutions.
In contrast, by the third week of December 2006, Mr. Spitzer had made 16 such appointments or nominations, including many of the largest agencies and public authorities in state government. .
He had also designated senior officials for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and the Empire State Development Corporation. Those appointments signaled his intent to quickly put his stamp on the semi-independent authorities that form what some have called New York’s “shadow government,” which Mr. Cuomo has pledged to discipline and to shrink.
The relatively slow pace of agency appointments is particularly surprising given that Mr. Cuomo held commanding advantages in money and poll numbers for virtually all of his seven-month campaign and had directed his transition teams to focus on personnel recruitment, leaving policy to his senior staff. Mr. Vlasto said the transition team members had conducted over 150 interviews with potential hires.
But it may reflect the difficulty of recruiting talented personnel under the regime of stricter ethics laws that Mr. Spitzer put in place, as well as the fact that public disgust with state government is high — not to mention Mr. Cuomo’s reputation as a demanding and at times difficult boss.
“The ethics laws are problematic for people who might want to return to the private sector; they arguably go farther than is necessary and may be keeping good people from government,” said Robert B. Ward, deputy director of the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, a research organization focusing on state government. “It’s a real problem when an exciting, activist governor like this one has trouble bringing in new people.”