The Navajo Nation

Office of the President

     The Navajo Nation

Office of the President

Nygren Administration ‘provisional basis’ proposal for Navajo Nation Personnel Policies Manual update approved by Health, Education, Human Services Committee

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — As of Monday, the Navajo Nation is hiring again. 

After three attempts over 90 days, Division of Human Resources Director Debbie Nez-Manuel and Division of Social Services Director Thomas Cody were able to shepherd necessary changes to the Navajo Nation’s hiring policies that hadn’t been changed in 30 years or more. 

On Thursday, the Navajo Nation Council’s Health, Education and Human Services Committee approved a change in the Navajo Nation Personnel Policies Manual that will permit job applicants to be hired and go to work while their background checks are being processed. 

The change takes effect immediately.

The hiring is referred to as “a provisional basis.” The applicant is hired, goes to work but if something arises in his or her background that is questionable, it is brought before a review committee. 

The review committee will look at the particular situation, consider the circumstances and determine the next steps. Their rights as an employee will be explained to them.

If the background check remains “non-favorable,” the employee is released with the understanding that he or she cannot take action against the Nation.

“Our goal is to hire people, so we want to look at what we can do to support the employee,” Director Nez-Manuel said. “Everyone else can talk in deficits. We’re going to talk in positives.”

This policy change will permit the Department of Personnel Management to begin to shrink the 2,100 position vacancies in the tribal government. There is work in almost every division that is proceeding at a snail’s pace or not getting done at all. 

Director Cody uses his own division as an example. 

“I have over 600 positions within the division (of social services),” he said, “Only 350 are filled. The provision to hire will allow me to bring in people while they’re going in through background checks and that will greatly decrease the vacancies which the President promised. “

“It’s decades old,” Director Nez-Manuel said. “We don’t mess around. The President said, ‘Get it done now, Debbie.’  This is the President’s commitment from last year. I’m really grateful I’m working with a leader that is going to make it happen.”

As it was, program managers throughout the divisions have had the option to request a background check that went back five years, 10 years or all the way back to age 18, irrespective of the age of the applicant. That decision was supposed to have been made depending on the sensitivity of the position. 

Those with the most sensitive job – those who work with money, police, anyone who carries a firearm, social workers, Headstart employees, or those who work with the elderly – would have a complete, intensive background check. 

What was happening, however, is that managers were mostly “cutting and pasting” and the majority of applicants were being assigned the comprehensive background check, even maintenance workers. 

“The current system with the background check is very invasive,” said DHR Deputy Director Nathaniel Brown. “That’s what we’re here to change. And the key thing is the Navajo Nation personnel policy manual. It’s the hiring process.”

Because of a shortage of staff in the Office of Background Investigations, six or seven months waiting for a background check to be completed was not uncommon. 

“In meantime, applicants often secure another job off the Navajo Nation,” said Social Service Director Cody. “So we are losing people because people are waiting for their background checks. The problem is rooted in lack of technology and outdated policies.”

The policy change is simple but its application may not be as easy because of the human element, Director Nez-Manuel said. 

“Today in 2023, we’re also helping our current personnel unlearn practices that have been in place. So this transition means we’re addressing all of these policies, old practices, and divisions working in silos. This was a big conversation.” 

“That keeps us from hiring our own people, Navajos,” Director Cody said. “Our vision is to hire as many of our people all over the Navajo Nation and this is coming from the President.” 

“If they don’t have skills or experience, bring them on through Workforce Development, Director Nez Manuel said. “This is tapping into one of the greatest resources the Navajo Nation has, which is our human resources.”