Guest C0lumn by Jeff Rader, Dist. 2 Commissioner
“That’s the way we’ve always done it.”
That is a popular refrain in organizations and businesses. It’s a way to justify operational methods, usually based on organizational culture or a manager’s instincts, in the absence of concrete data.
Such is the case for DeKalb County government, which, like most public sector entities, has been slow to adapt to emerging trends. Now that the county is forced to tighten its belt, the foundation for updating its operational model cannot be the gut feelings or educated guesses of the administration’s leaders.
That is why the county Board of Commissioners contracted with Georgia State University last fall to conduct a staffing study and analysis of DeKalb County. With the release of the study’s report, the county now has concrete data to help make strategic and informed decisions in revamping its organization.
In the three-and-a-half years since I was elected to the Board of Commissioners, I have continually pointed out that the county should not continue to do business as usual. One example is my January 2010 update on the budget process (see www.commissionerrader.com).
Some of the business-as-usual examples cited in the GSU study, conducted by its Public Performance and Management Group:
•Unfilled positions carried over to following year’s budget, allowing departments to spend the money for other purposes;
•Employees hired in one department, ended up working in another department while being paid by the original department;
•Employees accumulated significant overtime pay, sometimes more than 20 percent of their base salary; and,
•Employees hired for specific time period or project remained employed long after initial time period or project ended.
Hopefully the county administration takes action this year to eliminate those cited examples because they are not consistent with best business practices.
Based on DeKalb County’s current service expectations, the report looks at the efficiency of the county’s organizational chart. Its findings and recommendations mostly fall under these themes: Duplication, Consolidation, Elimination and Outsourcing.
Duplication: Departments prepare technical specifications and research best prices for purchase requests. Those requests are submitted to the purchasing department, which replicates those steps.
Consolidation: Several departments have their own personnel to handle tasks such as payroll, human resources and purchasing. Those common functions could be consolidated into central offices.
Elimination: Numerous positions serve narrow or nebulous purpose such that they can be absorbed by another position. Some examples cited in the study are Special Project Coordinator in CEO’s office, Audiovisual Production Assistant in police department, and Public Works Outreach Specialist, to name a few.
Outsourcing: Some services, requiring little institutional knowledge of county government, can be performed by the private sector. Among those suggested by the report are fleet management (vehicle maintenance), animal control, road paving and payroll.
Altogether, the study report’s recommendations would reduce the county workforce by 909 positions with minimal impact on existing levels of service. Those positions would amount to an annual savings, according to the report, of almost $43 million. In addition to the annual savings, the absence of those positions has a long-term impact on the county’s future obligations through its benefits program – medical and retirement.
The 909 positions cited in the study are contingent upon the county adopting all of the report’s recommendations. As the county evaluates the benefits and risks for each recommendation, its own conclusions may differ from those in the report.
The real value of the study lies not in its subjective recommendations, but its objective analysis of staffing for the entire county government. The study’s data will be an effective starting point for departmental performance audits, to be conducted by an internal auditor at the direction of the BOC’s Audit Committee, which I chair. I discussed the audit committee in my February 2010 Digest.
The take-away message from the report is a reminder that an effective organization is a dynamic one, which continually monitors, evaluates and revises its operational model. Then the operative phrase, unlike the opening line of this commentary, would become, “That’s how we do it and evidence shows that it works.”
To read the staffing study report, go to www.commissionerrader.com
(Commissioner Jeff Rader was elected in 2006 for a four-year term to represents District 2 on DeKalb County’s Board of Commissioners.)