Category Archives: Efficiency in government

Last Passenger on the Titanic

by James A. Bacon

The good news regarding the Silver Line extension of the Washington Metro rail system to Washington Dulles International Airport is that the service is fiiinnaally scheduled to commence in October after four years of construction delays.

The bad news is that Metro might not have enough rail cars in service to run on the line.

“The rail car shortage arose last year when more than half of Metro’s fleet — 748 of its most modern cars from the 7000-series — was removed from service owing to a wheel-widening malfunction that caused a derailment,” reports The Washington Post. “More than three-quarters of them remain out of service, pending review by the system’s regulatory agency.”

The really bad news is that Metro’s operating deficit, estimated to run $185 million next year, is projected to hit $738 million in Fiscal 2024 and reach $924 million four years after that. With those deficits, it’s hard to imagine service getting any better. Continue reading

Transformation to Achieve Effectiveness and Efficiency–Again

Eric Moeller, Chief Transformation Officer

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Amid great fanfare as one of his Day One actions, Governor Glenn Youngkin issued Executive Order No. 5, establishing the position Commonwealth Chief Transformation Officer within the Office of the Governor.

The Governor identified the responsibilities of the position to be “to help build a culture of transparency, accountability, and constructive challenge across our government; ensure employees at all levels of government are reminded that our government works for the citizens of Virginia; drive changes improving the effectiveness and efficiency of our government through tracking key performance metrics; identify, coordinate, and lead targeted transformation efforts.”

Leaving aside the questionable implications that there is currently not a culture of transparency, accountability, etc. and that state employees are not aware that they are paid with taxpayer money, the primary thrust of the position would be “improving the effectiveness and efficiency of our government.” Continue reading

City of Norfolk Allowed Its Animal Shelter Manager to Work Remotely. From Florida.

by Kerry Dougherty

To those who argue that remote work is lovely and only Luddites believe people should actually show up in their workplace every day, I offer THIS as an extreme example of what can happen.

The Virginian-Pilot reports that earlier this year some bonehead in the city of Norfolk gave the manager of the city’s animal shelter permission to move to Florida and work remotely until her replacement could be hired.

But guess what the long-distance manager did? According to The Pilot, in July she took a second job at another shelter in St. Petersburg.

There are all sorts of ethical questions about the actions of this city worker who continued to draw a fat Norfolk salary — courtesy of taxpayers — of $85,500 while living almost 1,000 miles away.

My real beef is with HER manager who okayed this insane arrangement. Continue reading

The Post Office’s Explanation for This Makes No Sense

Montpelier Station Photo credit: Orange County Review

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The United States Postal Service has shut down its Montpelier Station office because a display depicting racial segregation in Virginia was “unacceptable to the Postal Service.”

A brief history of the site is included in an article about the closure in the Culpeper Star-Exponent that is reprinted in today’s Richmond Times Dispatch.

In 1910, the wealthy industrialist William duPont, who had purchased Montpelier, the home of former President James Madison, and was living there, built a railroad depot on the property. Montpelier Station, as it was called, was served by the Southern Railroad. In accordance with custom and law, the station had separate waiting rooms and ticket windows for Black and White customers. In 1912, a post office opened in the same building and has been there since. Continue reading

An Innovative Initiative from UVa Shows A Way to Increase Low Cost Housing

Courtesy UVa

by James C. Sherlock

In July I published a series of reports here on the lack of sufficient low-cost housing.

The University of Virginia is addressing that problem head on in Charlottesville and Albemarle County. The innovation at the core of the program can be applied by Redevelopment and Housing Agencies (RHAs) across the state.

The idea came from the fact that 30% or more of the cost of developing housing is land cost. If a government, university foundation or any landowner would lease — long-term — underutilized land to a private property developer at a negligible land rent, the developer can make a profit with rents that are 30% below market.

This is how the University is building workforce housing for police, firefighters, nurses, school teachers and university blue collar workers. The idea, introduced by Jim Murray, a member of the Board of Visitors now also on the Affordable Housing Advisory Group at UVa, has been around for at least six years.

The concept will soon be reality.

The University program details can be found here.

Every city and county has an inventory of land, some of it forfeited in lieu of tax payments or seized in civil or criminal proceedings. In combination with zoning actions, it can be used for low-cost housing.

The UVa program is replicable. I hope the RHAs will consider it.

Virginia Needs Better Information Sharing to Provide Mandated Public Services to Illegals Efficiently and Effectively

by James C. Sherlock

I am on record as a persistent advocate of improving the quality of both schools and medical services for poor and minority citizens. It has been the main focus of my work for years.

In a directly related matter, we read, with different reactions depending upon our politics, of the struggles with uncontrolled immigration on border states on the one hand and D.C, New York City and Los Angeles on the other.

We are treated to the public spectacle of the mayors of sanctuary cities deploring massive new influxes of illegal border-crossers and asking for federal assistance. It provides one of the best object lessons in being careful what you ask for in recent public life.

All of that is interesting, but Virginians know that the problem is increasing. They know Virginia can’t fix it, and they want to know how Virginia will deal with it.

By law we owe illegals services. And we need to provide them efficiently and effectively both for humanitarian reasons and to ensure that citizens are not unnecessarily negatively affected.

There is work to do. Continue reading

Public Featherbedding at the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority?

The Young Terrace public housing community is along St. Paul’s Boulevard, just north of downtown. (Bill Tiernan) Credit Virginian Pilot

by James C. Sherlock

Daniel Berti published an excellent investigative report this morning in The Virginian-Pilot.

“Norfolk’s housing authority is in ‘dire’ financial condition, bloated after years of failing to downsize” details what may prove to be waste and abuse at that agency to preserve jobs as the administrative requirements and funding of the mission have diminished.

In other words, the report details what some may construe as government agency featherbedding. If it is true, it has been a big mistake, because federal dollars are involved.

I congratulate both the author and the paper on this exclusive. Please read it.

The article, as revealing as it is, does not mention the annual independent audits the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority (NRHA) is required by federal regulation to undergo.

It has been my experience over the years that local agencies spending federal funds often get into financial trouble that is traceable to audits.

Most often to good audits that are ignored. Continue reading

The Crisis of Reducing Costs and Maintaining Standards at Virginia’s State Colleges and Universities

Courtesy Virginia Tech

by James C. Sherlock

Virginia’s state-funded colleges and universities are too expensive.

Tuitions are the headline numbers.

But student fees and food and housing costs are as important to the budgets of families and individual students as tuition.

Costs within the college system have gone up because of a general lack of management systems and data to support oversight. They are going up further because of inflation in the economy.

Demand is going to plummet starting in 2025 as the “demographic cliff” of a 15 % drop in freshman prospects approaches due to the decline in birth rate in the 2008 recession that lasted for years thereafter.

The missing babies from 2008 would have begun entering college in 2025. Not a rosy scenario for the colleges. They all talk about it a great deal internally.

Some will have to get smaller to maintain student quality admissions standards or, alternately, lower those standards along with those of the programs of instruction.

Maintaining the same staff with smaller numbers of students will not work without massive price increases that they will not be able effectively to pass on without exacerbating the demand crisis.

Action is demanded, or parts of the Virginia higher education system, generally the smaller ones, are going to price themselves out of existence. The ones that do not act will be in a continuing crisis of their own making.

In the realm of enterprise disruptions, declining demand and increased costs are the big leagues. Continue reading

Virtual Education in K-12 Public Schools – A False and Corrupt Narrative in Virginia

by James C. Sherlock

Public employee interests with personal stakes in the outcome are lying by omission in public discussions of virtual schooling in Virginia.

Their message was published in Suzanne Munson’s column in the Richmond Times Dispatch on Jun 25th.

The VDOE has made a commendable start with online learning through its Virtual Virginia classes. But these are available in only a handful of school districts, serving less than 2% of the commonwealth’s students. This system could become a major player, with serious funding from the General Assembly. (emphasis added)

A free, accredited online curriculum, featuring the finest instructors in every subject, would level the playing field for students from diverse backgrounds. Rich and poor students alike across the commonwealth could receive the same good instruction, addressing uneven education in affluent, low-income and rural areas. Students confined at home due to illnesses or physical disabilities would be able to keep up with their studies and not fall behind.

Additionally, for those choosing remote learning individually or in small-group settings, this need not be an isolated experience. There could be opportunities for discussion, exercise, social interaction and creative expression, with adult supervision.

Ms. Munson failed to mention that exactly the public school educations she describes have been offered successfully for more than a decade free to parents by VDOE-certified private providers offering SOL-compliant instruction here in the Commonwealth.  Ms. Munson may even be ignorant of the existence of the privately run program.  

Somehow they have been doing it for those years to the great satisfaction of parents without “serious funding from the General Assembly.” They exist on the state share of school funding for each pupil that attends. The state money follows the child. No special state appropriations. Parents pay nothing. The local school districts pay nothing.

The problem the state employees have with that program is that the participating organizations are privately run. VDOE under the previous administration made a coordinated attempt to drive the MOP (Multi-division Online Provider) program out of business.

Now the state employees, using communications like Ms. Munson’s column, are lobbying for vast increases in dedicated state appropriations for their own virtual program. Promotions undoubtedly to follow for everyone currently in the program.

That constitutes public corruption. Continue reading

How Governor Youngkin Can Become the Most Popular Governor in History

Memo

To: Governor Glenn Youngkin

From: Dick Hall-Sizemore

Here is a sure fire way to become the most popular Governor of Virginia in history. It is two-pronged:

  1. Order all state agencies to eliminate the use of automated phone trees. The citizens of Virginia deserve to be able to talk to a real person when they have a question or need assistance;
  2. Ensure that all agencies have sufficient funding to hire enough people to answer the phones and assist people who call within a reasonable time.

I just tried to call a state agency for an answer to a simple question. I first had to negotiate a phone tree to get a central operator. That person referred me to a division within that agency. Upon calling that division, I had to listen for a minute or so while the automated voice tried to persuade me to deal with the agency on-line. I was then told by that automated voice to stay on the line if none of the on-line options were good for me.  hen another automated voice assured me that my call was very important, but all their agents were busy and I needed to stay on the phone line. The voice said the wait would be about 25 minutes.

25 minutes!!! How is that possible in the middle of a Thursday afternoon in early June?

By the way, it was not DMV or the Virginia Employment Commission.

How are Virginians Preparing for the Coming Food Price Shocks?

by James C. Sherlock

Virginians have only begun to experience price inflation at the grocery store.

Price increases are in the food pipeline that will be a much bigger problem starting this summer.

Farmers and ranchers invest up front. They borrow money to do it. They are incredibly efficient at what they do, but are at the mercy of input prices. They must wait until their crops and animals are sold to recoup their investments.

Everything farmers and ranchers do with their farm machinery requires diesel. So do the trucks that move crops to those who prepare them for our use and then to market. Diesel prices are expected to reach more than $6 per gallon this summer, a 35% increase from current prices. Inventories are low.

Most fertilizer is an oil derivative and has skyrocketed up to 300% since early 2021. On average, fertilizer in March of this year was 35% more expensive than it was in the fall of 2021, with Roundup up nearly 90%. In six months.

Of course, the feed ranchers buy for their animals comes from the produce of America’s farmers.

Producer prices that reflect what they have paid for diesel and fertilizer and the trucking costs of moving those crops are predicted to reach grocery stores in the summer and fall. That hardly suggests that the 9% inflation recently seen in retail food prices is the end of it.

It is important to ask what our governments and our best charities are doing to prepare. Continue reading

A Seat at the Table — State and Local Advisory Boards in Virginia Need Ideological Balance

Willow Woycke, president of the Transgender Education Association

by James C. Sherlock

One of the opportunities offered by investigative journalism that is denied to the average citizen is to observe appointed government advisory boards in action.

It has been enlightening, but almost always disappointing. The way the members of appointed boards are generally selected in Virginia is an artifact of a political spoils system.

Take education. Action boards such as the state Board of Education and local school boards have tended to appoint one-sided advisory panels and, unsurprisingly, get one-sided advice as a single option for public policy.

Minority ideas seldom make their way into the draft policies that advisory boards prepare. That in turn results in bad public policy. We need as a matter of some urgency to do better.

I urge the Youngkin administration to take the lead and change this tradition in state government. Continue reading

Fix the Virginia Department of Health

Credit: PBS Healthcare Management

by James C. Sherlock

Governor Youngkin and his new administration have an opportunity to fix crucial problems in the Department of Health that have been festering for decades.

The issues:

  • How can Virginia regulate effectively its state-created healthcare monopolies?
  • In a directly related matter, how can we fix the failures, famously demonstrated during COVID, of the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) in its other missions ?

The power of Virginia’s Certificate of Public Need (COPN) to control the business of healthcare in Virginia was the original sin.  Giving that power to the Department of Health made it worse.

From that point VDH was the agent of its own corruption. Never charged by the General Assembly to create regional monopolies in its administration of Virginia’s Certificate of Public Need (COPN) law, VDH did so anyway.

Actions have consequences.

Now those regional healthcare monopolies are each the largest private business in their regions, have achieved political dominance in Richmond, and effectively control VDH. Continue reading

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics in the Virginia Department of Education – Average Teacher Salaries Edition

by James C. Sherlock

I was in the early stages of researching a column on school salaries in Virginia when I came upon yet another bad report.

In 2021 Special Session I, the General Assembly directed the Superintendent of Public Instruction to provide a report on the status of staff salaries, by local school division, to the Governor and the Chairmen of the Senate Finance and Appropriations and House Appropriations Committees.

The appropriations committees wanted to know how much teachers and others were getting paid so they could raise the state contribution. It would seem to be a report that VDOE would like to get correct.

As with many other reports I have documented, the January salary report on its face cannot possibly be correct. VDOE and thus the Governor and General Assembly have no idea how much teachers and other instructional staff are paid in Virginia.

This report was a parting gift from the Northam administration.

The question itself — average salaries — may prove not to provide information useful for legislation and appropriations however accurately it is answered. Continue reading

What Virginia Can Do to Temper Inflation


by James A. Bacon

Governor Glenn Youngkin has proposed using $437 million in unanticipated transportation revenues, much of it generated by the wholesale tax on gasoline, to give Virginians a three-month break on the 26-cent retail gasoline tax.

During his campaign, Youngkin ran on a platform of addressing Virginia’s high cost of living and reversing the erosion of middle-class living standards. A vacation on the gasoline tax is certainly consistent with that theme. And with inflation running at nearly 8% over the past 12 months, Virginians need help wherever they can find it. They will find no succor from Democrats, whose list of unmet societal “needs” is endless. They are delighted to spend every dime in tax revenue on one of their favored causes — which, alas, rarely includes helping financially strapped middle-class taxpayers.

While Youngkin has identified a winning issue, he needs to think bigger and more systematically. It’s fine to dial back the gasoline tax for a time, remove the sales tax on groceries, and try to repeal the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) carbon tax, but there is so much more that he can do.

Forty-one percent of the cost of living, as calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is housing, 17% transportation, 7% medical care, and almost 7% education. Each of these categories is, to some degree, influenced by state-level budgetary and regulatory policy. Continue reading