Why is state gov so inefficient? Duh. Job preservation.

March 30, 2013

By Chris Reed

14383488_dysfunction2bjct_xlargeThe Sacramento Bee’s Jon Ortiz had a piece Thursday about the grotesque mess that is California state government that had lots of interesting details about the extent of the dysfunction:

“Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown christened an overhaul of the state’s personnel system, aiming to correct the wandering course of a government beset with arcane, conflicting rules that confound even the most experienced human resources managers.

“Now that overhaul faces a very public test with the state’s probe into ‘additional appointments.’

“Several agencies have cited the obscure 34-year-old policy as justification for giving salaried managers and supervisors secondary jobs that pay an hourly wage. The policy is so old that it exists only on paper. It’s confusing, imprecise and desperately needs updating.

“There are probably dozens — maybe hundreds — of similar personnel rules and regulations that departments — those that know about them, anyway — read and apply differently.”

Not in public employees’ interest to fix state’s mess

But Ortiz’s column, like so many other stories and analyses over the years, doesn’t acknowledge one reason why the chaos exists and has been tolerated. Indeed, he even asserts that it’s in everyone’s interest to fix the mess, because ….

” … an archaic, dysfunctional state government personnel system hurts everyone.

“‘Calcified personnel practices that were intended to measure “merit” discourage highly qualified people from applying for and landing state jobs, the independent, bipartisan Little Hoover Commission concluded eight years ago.”

Oh, what a load of hooey. An “archaic, dysfunctional state government” is one in which employee performance can’t be measured, employee efficiency can’t be improved and employee positions can’t be reduced.

Connect the dots. If the information-technology revolution had been allowed to transform the public sector as it has the private sector, we’d see government doing as much as it used to with far fewer workers. Instead, the IT revolution never made it to the public sector, including and especially in the state that’s home to Silicon Valley. Instead of doing more with less, we have chaos and overlap and confusion.

Government productivity gains could be ‘huge’

220px-FrameBreaking-1812And, no, it’s not true that the public and private sectors are so different that the IT revolution couldn’t make a difference in government efficiency. Here’s what the respected McKinsey consulting group said nearly a decade ago: “the opportunity to improve government productivity is huge … [with] three classic management tools . . . organizational redesign, strategic procurement and operational redesign.”

More on the topic from a column I did last year to mark the 200th anniversary of the peak of the Luddite movement in England:

“The key to [government] redesign is to stop building off the presumption that we need to have workers gather in the same building to handle routine tasks, and to require that consumers of government services go to these buildings, too.

“I once had to go to the Poway DMV to get a copy of a vehicle registration that I had lost because it was the only local DMV that had an appointment slot available within two weeks. Why? Why? Why? For God’s sake, in an era in which you can design your next car and do a zillion other things on the Internet, why do you ever have to drive to a government office anywhere to fill out a permit or pick up a form?

“Where are the virtual offices? Where are the MBA consultants who come in and spot ineffeciences and outline changes that seem obvious in retrospect? Why don’t we see the IT revolution depopulate government bureaucracies the same way it wiped out travel agencies?

“Because of 21st-century Luddites who hide behind claims of defending the middle class. The reality is that we’re seeing what is in essence immense featherbedding across all levels of government.”

This is why California’s state government is dysfunctional and chaotic: Because if it were run rationally and like a competent large corporation, we probably could get by just fine with half the state workers we now have.

This is what’s at stake in the fight over making state government more functional. Jon Ortiz may not have figured it out, but you can bet the unions have. And if the lunatics running the state Public Employment Relation Board have their say, the Brown administration will end its reform push after having been told that reform is only OK if it’s been collectively bargained.


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  1. libi uremovic
    libi uremovic 30 March, 2013, 06:43

    ‘…Instead, the IT revolution never made it to the private sector, including and especially in the state that’s home to Silicon Valley. …’

    i think you meant to say ‘public sector’ …the public sector never modernized their systems…every agency has a computer system, but they are all different…and every agency is allowed to make up their own accounting codes – and that opens the doors to corruption…

    an internal audit of the city of beaumont revealed they have hidden accounts giving personal loans to their police chief, lieutenants, and council and are giving government health care to their friends and family…

    it’s time to audit the books and stop the corruption – http://www.libionline.net

    we need uniform computer systems and accounting codes for all of our government agencies….

    Note from Chris Reed: You are right … I made the fix … thanks for pointing out error.

    Reply this comment
  2. Donkey
    Donkey 30 March, 2013, 14:37

    Most of the feeders that live off the state have any real function, other than to collect a check from the city, county, or state. Over 2/3’s would not even be used in the private sector. Most government jobs are little more than highly paid welfare recipients with a title. 🙂

    Reply this comment
  3. SkippingDog
    SkippingDog 30 March, 2013, 16:19

    You know the answer, Chris. “The Public” doesn’t want a highly efficient and effective government, no matter what people like you claim. A highly efficient government would vigorously and aggressively enforce all laws and regulations, including those pertaining to taxes, the environment, labor laws, and political activities. That would get in the way of your sponsors being able to “do business” in the manner that is most advantageous to their own interests.

    The public doesn’t even want to support the capital expenses necessary for efficient and effective government operations. Every time there is an effort to build a new public building of some sort, there are the cries of “Taj Mahal!” that prevent the incorporation of basic business practices common throughout the private sector. “Smart buildings,” sufficient electrical supply and bandwidth to allow for future expansion, and even such basics as a sufficient number of restrooms to accommodate both the visiting public and the employees working in the building are regularly sacrificed in the name of thrift, leading to productivity bottlenecks, insufficient space for those using the building, and the inevitable future costs of correction, which will then be cited as another cause celeb as to why government is inefficient.

    When you want a government that operates with the efficiency of a business, you’ll be willing to properly fund it and live with the products it produces on your behalf. Until then, try to whine about something else.

    Reply this comment
  4. Brown delta trout
    Brown delta trout 30 March, 2013, 20:28

    Even trough feeders have to get in line to get the next bucket of slop.

    Reply this comment
  5. Bob Smith
    Bob Smith 30 March, 2013, 22:23

    “When you want a government that operates with the efficiency of a business, you’ll be willing to properly fund it”

    In what sense is government insufficiently funded?

    Reply this comment
  6. SkippingDog
    SkippingDog 31 March, 2013, 00:05

    Easy, Bob. Take a look at the courts. We have expanded both the number of courts and the various boutique courts (Veterans, Homeless, Drug, DV, etc.) with the hearty support of nearly every local politician regardless of party. However, while doing so we have neglected to provide the funding for the support personnel, such as secretaries, clerks, and legal assistants, who are necessary to actually do the grunt work that is required for those courts to properly function. Therefore, we all live with delays, case reassignments, and other negative impacts to the very justice system that not only individuals but businesses rely on to maintain their legal interests.

    It’s easy to find other examples if you look with an open mind, just as it is easy to find examples of government mismanagement, but Reed’s premise that there is inefficiency in government just so people can protect their jobs is both unsupported by any objective facts and a ridiculously partisan attack.

    Reply this comment
  7. Donkey
    Donkey 31 March, 2013, 08:39

    Skdog, in your haste to create are air of necessity for your cabal you open doors that expose the evil nature of the RAGWUS built PIC, along with your ignorance of the reason we have a Constitution.

    Our courts have not “properly functioned” for the last 25 years, in the most part because they have become one of the benefactors of the PIC, along with your cabal of henchmen.

    The truth is, that eveyone in government is overpaid, over benefited, and under worked, even the word “work” has to be used loosely in definition as to not lose its meaning when refering to the typical RAGWUS feeder. 🙂

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  8. stevefromsacto
    stevefromsacto 31 March, 2013, 11:12

    Here’s something else to consider: When you have a screw-up in government, it is often in reality a screw-up by a private contractor hired by government to do the job. We’ve seen numerous examples in the past with the state’s computer problems and just recently with this: http://latimes.com/news/local/la-me-ff-gps-monitors-20130331,0,2486955.story

    What’t the common denominator? Each of the companies that screwed-up was hired as the low bidder. As former U.S. Senator and astronaut John Glenn said: “I found it discomforting when I was sitting in the space capsule on top of the huge Saturn rocket and remembered that all of the equipment involved in this was built by the low bidder.”

    It’s disingenuous for all you righties to complain on the one hand about government spending and turn around and point fingers when one of the low-bid PRIVATE companies screws up. You get what you pay for.

    p.s. Skipping Dog is right on target.

    Reply this comment
  9. Richard Rider
    Richard Rider 31 March, 2013, 12:13

    When we use government departments and public sector employees instead of private contractors and employees, we are paying the OPPOSITE of low bidder. We are paying for the HIGH bidder — with ZERO economic incentive for performance.

    And that’s been working out OHHHHHH so well for the delivery efficiency of government services (if like stevefromsacto you get paid by the public employee labor unions to be their propaganda outlet).

    Reply this comment
  10. Richard Rider
    Richard Rider 31 March, 2013, 12:14

    BTW, for those of you not familiar with stevefromsacto, that’s Steve Mehlman — a highly paid public employee labor union propagandist — TOTALLY dependent on government for his living. Anyone surprised?
    According to his blog on the far left CALIFORNIA PROGRESS REPORT (where he writes regularly), “Steve Mehlman is Communications Director of the 65,000-member UDW Homecare Providers Union//AFSCME Local 3930.”

    Reply this comment
  11. stevefromsacto
    stevefromsacto 31 March, 2013, 18:13

    Richard, why don’t you stop with the Tea Party smears. I know you from your efforts in San Diego and never thought you’d stoop that low. I am NOT Communications Director for UDW, and I most assuredly am NOT nor have ever been “highly paid”, especially when compared to corporate lobbyists and hangers-on. And as for being a “propagandist”, it takes one to know one.

    If you want to argue the merits of an issue, fine, I can respect that. But if you would rather resort to personal insults, you might as well shut up. Because you won’t stop me from speaking my mind.

    John, Katy, et al, sorry you seem willing to let Rider tear down this site by engaging in the politics of personal destruction.

    Reply this comment
  12. Queeg
    Queeg 1 April, 2013, 08:22

    Feeders need love too! They buy goods and services from greedy capitalists and lots of taxes to……stop whining….quite immature.

    Reply this comment
  13. StevefromSacto
    StevefromSacto 1 April, 2013, 12:33

    BTW, please note that my last post as a “regular” writer for the California Progress Report–which is certainly no further left than the Watchdog is far right–was almost three years ago. Sadly, the rest of Richard Rider’s feeble attempt at muckraking is equally out of date and off base.

    Reply this comment
  14. Richard Rider
    Richard Rider 2 April, 2013, 09:36

    Steve Mehlman a.k.a. StevefromSacto — You CLAIM you are no longer a labor union propagandist, but you hide your current employment — you told me it was “none of [my] damn business.”

    What are you hiding, Steve? Which politician or union are you working for now as a propagandist?

    I find it amusing that when I post what YOU put up on a website as your job, it’s a smear. LOL!! How is that revelation a “smear”?

    Yes, the term “propagandist” is pejorative, but the FACT remains the same — you were (and likely still are) a highly paid propagandist for public employees — directly or indirectly.

    Nothing wrong with that, I guess. It’s just that readers need to know where you are coming from and — unlike most posters here — that you are PAID for your propaganda efforts.

    Everyone understands MY bias — what’s wrong with revealing yours?? Feel free to post your current employment (but I’d like verification, given your secretive dishonesty). Somehow I suspect it’s not the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

    Reply this comment
  15. stevefromsacto
    stevefromsacto 2 April, 2013, 12:04

    I am RETIRED, OK, Dickie? But I guess anyone who is not a member of the Rabid Right is not allowed to speak freely without getting “outed” by the likes of you.

    By the way, I may disagree with what you think, but I never have or do not now accuse you of lying. It’s a shame you can’t show me the same respect.

    Everyone who posts on this blog has a bias. Maybe since I’m now retired you’ll have a field day accusing me of being biased in favor of “socialist” things like Social Security and Medicare. But kindly explain to me why where I used to work or the money I used to make (“highly paid” is pure b.s.) makes any difference, when you don’t ask the same question of the people on this site who support you. And how do you KNOW that most of the other posters aren’t working for corporations or special interest groups or secret right-wing PACS.

    My beliefs are clear. I have never made any attempt to hide them. And I’ll continue to speak out here and anywhere else I like. That is my right as an American citizen. And I am allowed to FREELY do so, no matter what my employment background, or my race, or my religion, or my income, or the number of dependents I have. Those are NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS. And your feeble attempts to use my background to demean me and attack what I believe is a smear in every sense of the word.

    p.s. I wouldn’t work for the Jarvis Taxpayers Association if you put a gun to my head. Unlike others, my principles aren’t for sale to the highest bidder.

    Reply this comment
  16. Donkey
    Donkey 2 April, 2013, 18:58

    stevefromsacto, your beliefs towards public unions is wrong. 🙂

    Reply this comment
  17. Richard Rider
    Richard Rider 3 April, 2013, 09:19

    Sure, Steve, sure.

    To start with, you post anonymously (not that unusual, of course). Only when I revealed your labor union ties did you fess up. Sad that you consider my revelations to be smears. But I can understand why.

    People attack me all the time for my bias. They assume I’m a Tea Party activist. I’m not even a member, though I have many friends in the movement.

    You claim (as you have in the past) that anyone who disagrees with you is from the “Rabid Right.” Isn’t it fair to point out that you are comfortably ensconced on the Loony Left?

    My bias is clear, but it’s not financially driven as you are. I’ve never made money doing what I do — I’m a volunteer. You, on the other hand, have long functioned as a misinformation mercenary for hire.

    There is a HUGE difference with being concerned with your employment background and the other irrelevant demographic aspects you raise (none of which I raised!). But then, you know that — it’s just more deflecting nonsense from you — straw men for you to beat up on.

    Steve, you spent much of your life being “for sale to the highest bidder.” The bidder was your employers — labor unions. I admit that you are probably a true believer, but you did what you were told, and didn’t dissent. You were for sale.

    Given your propensity for secrecy, you may still be on the union propaganda payroll. I suspect that that such is the case, but only you know for sure.

    Reply this comment

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