Amid vacancies, New Mexico IT department asks lawmakers to fund more positions

Agency aims to hire more cybersecurity experts to deal with increased, complex needs

By: - October 31, 2023 4:45 am

The Department of Information Technology wants funding to hire six additional full-time employees at the cybersecurity office. (Photo by Getty Images)

The New Mexico Department of Information Technology is missing nearly a quarter of its workforce. With increasingly complicated and prominent technology needs, the department’s acting secretary wants lawmakers to set aside more money to pay for additional positions at the agency.

The agency is looking for more funds overall as the 2024 session nears, which runs Jan. 16 to Feb. 15.

Raja Sambandam is the acting cabinet secretary and state chief information security officer at the New Mexico IT department. He told the legislative Science, Technology and Telecommunications Committee on Monday that 21% of the jobs at his agency are vacant.

Of 166 positions at the department, 131 are filled, leaving 35 empty roles, he said.

He said that level of vacancy isn’t sustainable for the workers who are there and have to pick up a heavier workload.

“Recruitment has been tough. I’m not going to try to sugarcoat this,” he said. “It has been a difficult task for me in my role.”

He said he also expects a significant number of employees to retire soon. Sambandam said he didn’t have the exact number, but it’s in the double digits.

Sambandam anticipates 10 or 11 positions will be filled soon following a recent hiring event, after background checks and offer letters come through.

Rep. Debra Sariñana (D-Albuquerque), chair of the committee, suggested IT jobs can be hybrid so the agency can pull and hire from a wider pool of workers, like out-of-state employees. Sambandam said that could be an opportunity.

“Having that flexibility will improve our scope of hiring,” he said.

While the number of workers at the IT department is down, the need for those services is not. Sambandam said the department is asking lawmakers to fund another 16 full-time employees in fiscal year 2025.

That would increase the department’s future operating costs, he said. 

New Mexico also needs to offer a competitive salary for workers in the tech field, he said, which isn’t really happening right now.

He said most of the IT department’s job salaries max out around $110,000 per year, which could be what some people expect for entry-level positions across the country, especially in the cybersecurity field. He referenced that workers are expecting higher pay to start new jobs.

When asked about his own salary, Sambandam said he was making more when he worked in the field in 2012 than as a state official now in 2023.

“I don’t know what the right solution is, but I do know for the short-term I need to hire the extra pairs of arms and legs that I need to manage my business,” he said.

Sambandam said three or four years ago, the agency lost about 37 positions because they remained vacant for a while. After Sen. Michael Padilla (D-Albuquerque) pointed out that a few of those positions have come back for the broadband office, Sambandam said there are still gaps at the agency and an additional 16 people would help solve that.

Some of the challenges lie in the cybersecurity office within the department, he said, where a small team handles increasingly complex issues. Cybersecurity attacks have disrupted state agencies, public school systems and the largest jail in New Mexico.

The cybersecurity office only recently started up, established by lawmakers in 2023 with the Cybersecurity Act. Sambandam said the agency would like to send six of the 16 new proposed roles to that office.

Overall, the IT department wants lawmakers to approve a 6% increase in its total operating budget for fiscal year 2025, according to the agency’s presentation, adding up to about $90.4 million.

Padilla said he hopes Sambandam is requesting the funds the department truly needs because he doesn’t know “where things are going to go in the next three to five years with the state budget.” He said there’s money to do these things now.


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Megan Gleason
Megan Gleason

Megan Gleason is a journalist based in Albuquerque. She recently graduated from the University of New Mexico, where she served as the editor-in-chief of the Daily Lobo. Other work has appeared under the New Mexico Press Association as well as in the Independent, Gallup Sun and Silver City Daily Press.