Brennan: Incentives could fix flawed system
By Tom Brennan |
Gov. Mike Dunleavy could revolutionize state government and downsize many departments with one innovative approach — incentives.
The best people to do the consolidation job are those closest to the problem, the department heads and managers throughout the system. They know where the fat is, what functions are essential, which are not and which could be trimmed.
They are the most knowledgeable people on how their agency’s operations could best be streamlined. They will do what needs to be done if the new governor makes it worth their while, providing a valuable and desirable benefit for using their expertise to make their agencies more effective and cost-efficient.
The most desirable incentives would either be monetary or job enhancements like additional vacation time. Those could either be bonus checks or additional vacation time for the year or two following adoption of the recommendation. The latter option, bonus vacation time, could be offered at essentially no cost to the agency. The changes they suggest could and should streamline their agencies enough to preclude the need for additional help to fill in while they are gone from their jobs for the extra week or two.
Government decision-makers need to get away from across-the-board cuts, the device most often used to cut budgets. Those are inefficient and the burden often falls on essential functions that the public cannot do without, like empty and unusable beds at Alaska Psychiatric Institute because funding for staff positions are cut far too deeply. The result of API cuts is dangerous to staff, ofttimes the public, and causes people with mental problems to be arrested and sent to jail rather than a treatment facility.
Quite often, managers will cut funding for functions under their jurisdiction that are most beloved by the public. That results in public backlash and demands that the funding be restored. It’s a game played by some of the more calculating members of the bureaucracy and it’s often effective.
Getting the job done also requires a strong mandate from the top. Governor Dunleavy should tell his new department heads: “I am hiring you to cut your department’s budget without cutting service. You and the people who work for you will be graded on your success in doing that. I expect you to accomplish those objectives or you will be replaced by someone who can do the job.”
Experienced government executives tell us that all managers have something they would like to do, ideas they have for improving their organizations’ efficiency and getting their jobs done better. What is needed is a system that will reward managers for such approaches and encourage their adoption.
One example of a problem that can be solved with a little careful thought is the time-consuming process involved in hiring new Alaska State Troopers. For some reason, the system has become so hamstrung that it can take up to two years to recruit a new employee, get him or her through the approval process and make a final offer. Good candidates are applying but dropping out long before any final offer is made. Often they take other offers made while they were waiting.
Many community leaders and police officials feel the long process is unnecessary. The city of Wasilla gets its new police hires onboard within six months and some believe even that is too long.
Experts in the field tell me that the Department of Public Safety ought to be able to complete the hiring process, including background and eligibility checks, in a matter of weeks. One suggested that after the initial decision is made to hire an individual, the candidate could be temporarily assigned to a desk job and sent to the next available training session at the DPS Academy in Sitka, which would get the individual ready to start work. Because there are so many unfilled jobs there should be plenty of money for the desk jobs.
Such an approach would drastically shorten the time required, fill vacant positions in a timely manner and allow the department to recruit and hire the best candidates available for such jobs.
Governor Dunleavy and his new DPS commissioner will also need to make sure that agency changes are not politically motivated and therefore easily eliminated by future administrations.
It will be important that unions buy into the changes and be supportive of retaining them. Incentives that benefit their members could go a long way in that direction.