Lab to fill LFA vacancy, budgetary slip delays hiring process

  • Little fire ants. (Photo courtesy of Hawaii Department of Agriculture)

KAILUA-KONA — As little fire ants continue to swarm West Hawaii, the state inches closer to fortifying permanent reinforcements to combat the invasive species on the Big Island’s leeward side.

Included in last year’s budget was $200,000 in extra annual funding for Hawaii Ant Lab, a portion of which was earmarked for the creation of the lab’s first full-time position in West Hawaii.

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News of the allocation to develop the position was reported in April. But as of Friday, the University of Hawaii at Manoa had yet to advertise the job or form the panel that will select from qualified applicants to fill it.

Much of the delay can be chalked up to typical bureaucracy, explained Cas Vanderwoude, ant specialist at Hawaii Ant Lab.

“The state (human resources) system is a fair bit slower than you might think, so it takes a while for the positions to be created and advertised,” he said.

But in this case, there’s more to it than that.

The Hawaii Department of Budget and Finance made a mistake in the allocation process and funding was connected to the University of Hawaii at Hilo. Hawaii Ant Lab is affiliated with UH-Manoa.

Rep. Nicole Lowen, D-North Kona, said once such a mistake is made, it typically can’t be rectified until the next legislative session begins.

While the misallocation of the funding for Hawaii Ant Lab was not her mistake, Lowen explained that such missteps occur with some regularity.

“Honestly, it’s not that uncommon for this kind of thing to happen because we do have a relatively short legislative session that a lot gets crammed into,” she said. “There’s always something that falls through the cracks. It is frustrating because it does cause hold-ups.”

Vanderwoude reiterated that in the case of lab funding for a position in West Hawaii — where LFA have proliferated over the last five years, aggravating farmers, landscapers and homeowners alike — the delay caused by the Department of Budget and Finance’s confusion between colleges was not substantial.

“It wasn’t a big problem. … UH-Manoa and UHH just worked it out,” he explained. “It was part of the reason it took a little longer, but generally the system of creating a position and going through the hiring process within the state, because these are general fund positions, is a lot slower than it would be otherwise.”

Vanderwoude added he’s hopeful a candidate will be selected inside of six weeks, but stressed that’s not a definitive timeline and it could take longer.

“We’re at a point now where positions have been created and approved,” he said. “They’ll be advertised in the next couple weeks, I’m told.”

The second posting Vanderwoude referenced is Hilo-based and will also be funded by the new allocation. Interested candidates can look for the job postings through the university system and various job boards once the hiring process officially begins.

In the interim, Heather Forester, extension specialist at Hawaii Ant Lab, and others like her will continue to fill the West Hawaii void in LFA personnel.

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She said the new position will likely function as not only an extension specialist but will also conduct surveys at green waste disposal areas and ports of entry, along with performing ant identifications.

Those concerned they may have an LFA infestation are encouraged to contact Hawaii Ant Lab at (808) 315-5656. Information about LFA testing and treatment measures is provided on the lab’s website, which can be accessed at www.littlefireants.com.