After Filling 1,368 Positions, Kaine Moves to Trim State Workforce

Concerned about deteriorating tax revenues, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine is putting a freeze on state hiring — and may consider more layoffs, reports Jeff Schapiro with the Times-Dispatch. “Anything is possible; everything is on the table,” Kaine press secretary Gordon Hickey said of firings, which have been limited to less than 100 so far.

By way of background, the number of state employees classified as “General Funded” (which, I presume, means funded by the General Fund, which excludes university employees and other groups over which the governor has little authority) stood at 39,420 in Jan. 2006, when Kaine became governor. By Nov. 2007, the number had risen to 40,788 — an increase of 3.5 percent in note-quite two years.

Given the surge in state spending, that increase in employee count doesn’t sound unreasonable. On the other hand, much of that surge was programmatic — spending on state aid to schools, Medicaid and the like, which should not take many more employees to administer. Also, the increase in the number of state employees should be compared to employment trends among large organizations in the private sector. I can’t readily find any productivity numbers for the service sector, but my sense is that most service-sector companies the size of the Commonwealth of Virginia are reducing employee count, not raising it.

Admittedly, the productivity (or lack of it) of the state workforce cannot be laid exclusively at the feet of Tim Kaine, who inherited an organizational culture that, for many reasons including oversight by the General Assembly, is highly resistant to change. But it is appropriate at this moment of Virginia’s fiscal history to ask: Where are the productivity gains promised by the reorganization of the state’s IT functions? In theory, Virginia is supposed to be saving lots of money on IT spending and equipping its employees to do their jobs more productively. Is that happening?

How is the Virginia Information Technologies Agency working out? Is it over the hump in its difficult reorganization? Is its quasi-independence from the executive branch proving to be a help or a hindrance? Is the contracting out of major functions to the private sector creating the promised benefits?

Inquiring minds want to know.

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  1. Norman Leahy Avatar
    Norman Leahy

    Jim — Does this mean Russ Potts is in danger of losing his new patronage job with the state?

  2. Jim Bacon Avatar

    What’s Russ Potts’ new job? I didn’t know he was working for the state. (Though, somehow, I’m not surprised.)

  3. Anonymous Avatar


    Get some good state government contacts or just come out and say it. VITA sucks.

    VITA is a disaster. State agencies that had capable IT staff must now wait and wait and wait for VITA to come and fix their problems anytime anything with IT goes wrong.

    Making said state agency much less efficient.

    The idea is good in theory, but poorly executed.

    Other gov’t reform initiatives like the Division of Real Estate services, are doing a great job saving taxpayers money, even though it required additional state employees etc.

    Which is which I disagree with your contention that no. of state employees directly relates to efficiency or spending. If you can hire 1 more employee for $50,000/year and save $200,000/year do it. Who cares what the numbers look like.

  4. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Anonymous 3:15, There is some kind of tug of war going on behind the scenes regarding VITA. The following comes from a Hampton Roads Technology Council newsletter sent out today:

    The Governor’s proposed budget (HB30) contains language transferring IT procurement from the Virginia Information Technology Agency (VITA) to the Department of General Services (DGS). The technology industry recognized this as folly and expressed its discomfort with this proposal. For many years, the industry had worked with the Secretary of Technology and staff to have this authority transferred, first temporarily then permanently, from DGS to the Department of Technology. Despite overwhelming skepticism from the General Assembly, this was accomplished in Governor Mark Warner’s first year. The DGS has never treated technology procurement any differently than all other procurements, and this was, and remains, a primary problem. Buying software is not like buying a desk or pencils. There is a specific timeline for purchasing IT before it is obsolete and this is paramount to maintaining the Commonwealth’s IT standards. Notwithstanding the Governor’s shortsightedness, it appears this issue has been resolved and the IT procurement responsibilities will remain where they belong: with VITA.

    The report was written by Skip Maupai who, as I recall, was deputy Secretary of Technology during the Gilmore administration.

  5. joe the state guy Avatar
    joe the state guy

    This state employee agrees with Anonymous. Where I work, the network goes down intermittently all day. It used to be as dependable as the sunrise. There are all sorts of VITA people crawling around here, instead of the one guy we had who did everything and did it well. We had great Dells that were almost new, but they were taken away and we got new HP computers. It didn’t make sense.

    Of course, VITA’s not the only money-sucking problem for the state. I bet lots of those employees added since Governor Kaine was elected are bean counters for how many minority and women contracts we have. Imagine the state paying people to recruit people to sell stuff to the state!

  6. Anonymous Avatar

    I do a lot of volunteer work down here in SW VA, mainly community service. This means that I come into contact with a lot of folks who work for/with state organizations. I had one really sharp, dedicated, extremely well-educated guy get so agitated over the state’s new IT system that he actually was stuttering by the end of our conversation. First and only time I ever heard him do so and I’ve heard him speak publicly and privately many times.

    It seems that not only is the new system a lot more expensive than the old one, it isn’t any better, may well be worse; and many agencies are expected to make up for the higher costs by cutting other services.

    Deena Flinchum

  7. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    The Navy is going through a similar trauma with a program called NMCI (Navy Marine Corps Internet).

    The problem is/was that each location was doing business differently… with their computers.

    They all had different computers.. with different hardware and software… and HUGE maintenance costs for both hardware and software.

    For example.. each local activity was buying their own licenses for software rather than having the Navy do a Master Contract at a fraction of the price.

    Local activities would buy different kinds of printers.. and other media.. etc…

    But trying to pull all of this together resulted in a LOT of problems .. that basically made the effort to standardize the hardware/software look like a failure.

    You can bet your bippy though when a company like WalMart tells a local store to use a certain kind of hardware and software that there is no defiance and resistance like we see happening in government activities – coming often from folks with tenured jobs.. doing “their own thing”.

    That’s the challenge for any corporate-wide computer effort – is to understand what each agency is doing with computers and whether or not they are different for a real reason specific to their function or whether they are different because that’s the way they evolved.

    The local activities tend to fight the standardization and their secret belief is that if the effort is deemed a failure ..that it will devolve back to each agency doing it’s own thing.

    That would be a failure.

    Walmart could never afford to operate that way.

    In fact – no large enterprise cannot afford to operate that way corporately without incurring huge and unnecessary costs but more importantly.. not operate as an integrated enterprise.

    I spent the better part of 4 years trying to convince my employer on just how not smart it was to do computer backups on tapes on individual machines instead of to a central backup machine.

    and this is the kind of thing.. you get into with local agencies who want to do their own thing… things like backups are left to chance… per the local geek-guy…

  8. apoplectic Avatar

    Larry, your comments echo the fallacies that helped VITA come into being and which are used over and over as the excuse for why it failed–it *couldn’t* be that the idea itself was deeply flawed, or that its architects paid someone to tell them it was sound rather than bother to draw from past or present knowledge and expertise, or that its implementers on both sides of the “Public Private Partnership” were unequal to [at minimum] this task, or that the whole thing was based on an wild exaggeration and misapprehension of the problems with IT in the state.

    It *has* to be that the agencies just wouldn’t play nice, right? And why can’t they have a more positive attitude about the level of service they’re getting, even if they can remember a time, not so long ago, when it Didn’t Suck?

    Even considering the wretched inception, it might have worked if the invaders really did know what they were doing, and certainly if they were superior in the way they were touted as being. That was the whole sales tactic. “State agencies are so incompetent that obviously everything will be better managed if we wipe it all out and pay vast sums to a contractor.” The first was not true and neither was the second. But guess who’s still getting paid as if these things were true.

    Most importantly, they did not look at agencies that were already delivering IT services efficiently and well, and use that living sample to figure out how to fix what was actually broken, because it was verboten to acknowledge that anything in the existing paradigm could be working already. Rather than deal with the fractures, they preferred to chop off whole limbs in favor of prosthetics.

    The general theory of consolidation is not the problem. The hostile preconceptions of Mark Warner, the greed of contractors, and the incompetence of the state agency they used to grow VITA out of all share responsibility for both the bad diagnosis and the toxic cure.

  9. Anonymous Avatar

    I beg to differ regarding the statement that the Division of Real Estate services is saving the state any real money. A more accurate statement would be that is it making a lot of money for the real estate broker contracted by the DGS. It is another example of the state throwing out the good with the bad. Yes, some agencies ran better real estate operations better then others, but the idea that one is inefficient so they all must be is flawed argument.

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