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December 15, 2014 at 6:20 AM

As Gov. Inslee asks for $1 billion more, where are the promised efficiencies?

UPDATE: A state human resources report cited below, showing a 13 percent jump in overtime for state workers, has been updated to fix an inaccuracy. In fact, overtime dropped three percent from 2013, according to the new report. Ralph Thomas, spokesman for the Office of Financial Management, writes:

The overtime pay figures come from an annual report by our State Human Resources division that tracks a wide range of HR-related issues such as hiring, turnover and overtime. Last year, during a Lean improvement process, State Human Resources discovered that nearly two dozen wage types were not being captured in their overtime report. So they fixed that before gathering data for the 2014 report.

Trouble was, when we posted the FY 2014 overtime figure, we failed to point out that it could not be compared – apples to apples – to the FY 2013 overtime figure. So we asked State Human Resources to redo the 2013 report using the new data gathering method.

ORIGINAL POST, published Dec. 15:

As Gov. Jay Inslee rolls out his first two-year budget this week, pay attention to how many times he talks about tax revenue and how rarely he talks about making government more efficient.

His budget director, David Schumacher, last week had a telling quote in The Seattle Times:

“After seven years of cuts, the ability to get significant amounts of revenue from quote ‘efficiencies’ is just not there anymore,” Schumacher said Tuesday afternoon in a briefing with reporters.

Making government more efficient is not just about cutting. It should be a focus on remaking calcified bureaucracies into responsive, innovative service delivery agencies. But as Inslee makes a case this week for at least $1 billion or more in new revenue, savings via lean management would help taxpayers’ faith in the government. That’s what he promised as a candidate.

Top of Inslee’s government reform agenda has been “lean management,” a set of principles borrowed from the private sector “to give taxpayers the best service at the lowest possible cost.” A report to the Legislature details efficiencies thus far. For example, the state Department of Financial Institutions reports streamlining oversight of consumer loan companies. They cut a process involving seven-plus employees that took nine months down to one employee, using an automated system.

lean management

Great. That might have saved the agency some money. Why haven’t those savings been passed on to taxpayers?

Sen. Andy Hill, the Republican’s lead budget-writer, wonders too. “In the last two budgets I’ve written, he’s resisted violently booking any savings based on lean management. It was a hard no.”

Compare candidate Inslee’s government reform white paper with his Governor’s office website, and you’ll see that “reducing middle management” has dropped off. That idea referred to the Washington Management Service, a job class created in the 1990’s to draw private sector talent to government. Wages for the mostly non-union jobs are higher, and pay raises are discretionary (and have tended to be bigger than rank-and-file). That drew the ire of unions and of fiscal conservatives, prompting reforms in 2005 that limited the ranks of Washington Management Service employees.

Although Inslee promised to “thin” the “overabundance” of mid-level managers, that’s not happened. I also can’t find evidence of his pledge to review the Washington Management Service.

In fact, the percent of Washington Management Service jobs has grown under Inslee.

Source: Department of Financial Management

Source: Department of Financial Management

Covering government for two decades, I’ve consistently heard from line workers that they’re poorly managed, and that contributes to poor morale and a rigid workplace. An interesting note in a recent state workforce report: overtime is up 13 percent in 2014, at a cost of $91 million. Is that good management?

Hill, a presumptive rival for Inslee in 2016, suggests Inslee should borrow from former Gov. Gary Locke’s “Priorities of Government” effort that forced agencies to rank the importance of their work.

“That only works if you have an executive willing to say, ‘No, I need you to really tell me what your high priorities are to do.’ We don’t see any of that.”

Government reform isn’t just about squeezing savings out of the $33.7 billion biennial state budget. But when you’re asking taxpayers for a billion more, it certainly helps.

Comments | Topics: Andy Hill, Gov. Jay Inslee, lean management

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