VDOT Sets the Pace for State Productivity

In its final quarterly report for Fiscal 2005, the Virginia Department of Transportation noted that the number of VDOT employees had declined from 10,001 employees to 9, 126 — even while improving performance on key metrics such as completing construction and maintenance jobs on time and on budget. (See the Virginian-Pilot article here.)

That’s an impressive performance — probably the most impressive performance of any state agency under the Warner administration. The increase in productivity and quality excels even in comparison to the private sector. Here’s my question: How does that compare to other state agencies? We don’t know. The reason we don’t know, I suspect, is that other agencies aren’t tracking their performance the same way. If they are, they aren’t talking about it. Otherwise, they surely would be trumpeting their achievements.

According to federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data, Virginia state government overall has been adding to payroll, not cutting it over the past year. Average state employment for the first four months of 2005 was 182,675, compared to 181,650 the year before. Remember, those aggregate numbers include VDOT’s cuts of nearly 900 employees, implying a growth of nearly 2,000 employees for non-VDOT agencies. (Disclaimer: These numbers are not authoritative. The BLS does not classify jobs the same way the state does. But the figure do indicate a trend.)

Conclusion: State agencies aren’t exactly on a hiring binge, but the era of budget-crisis parsimony appears to be over. For certain, taxpayers aren’t seeing the hoped-for gains in state enterprise productivity they have every right to expect.

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  1. Will Vehrs Avatar
    Will Vehrs

    Jim, thanks for highlighting an issue that ought to get more attention.

    VDOT has indeed been a shining star under Phil Shucet. I recall being in a VDOT office and seeing a vision/mission statement type letter he had written to employees that was posted on the wall. I thought it was the absolute best one page document of this type I had ever seen. It made me want to work there.

    You are not seeing other state agencies trumpet their productivity because it is absolutely not on their radar screens. There is no high level interest to push them. After an early and impressive start for his administration on reform and productivity, Governor Warner let up and the state bureaucracy went back on cruise control.

    I’d love to see some breakout on what are the kinds of state jobs that have been added. If my personal observations are any indicator, the state is not adding jobs that directly serve the taxpayer–many of those are left vacant without any corresponding reorganization. The state seems committed to adding more admin jobs to shuffle internal state paperwork, such as procurement staff specializing in counting how many box lunches for citizen boards are purchased from certified small, women, or minority-owned vendors.

    I wish our gubernatorial candidates would discuss this, even if no one is listening.

  2. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    I came home from a four day travel to discover that seveal miles of route 55 near my home had been resurfaced. I thought that was fast, only problem is I had never noticed the road was deteriorating, at least not compared to some other projects that really need work.

  3. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    I’m glad I added that disclaimer to my post. I’ve just spotted a different set of numbers, these reported by the Virginia Employment Commission. According to the VEC, state government employment actually has dropped from 143,100 in May 2004 to 142,800 in May 2005 — a decline of 300 jobs. These numbers, I suspect, are more authoritative than the Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers.

    Those figures still suggest a net gain for non-VDOT agencies, but that gain isn’t as pronounced as i suggested in my post.

  4. People I know in several departments at DSS tell me they’re drastically understaffed and overworked. I don’t know about any other agencies, but that’s a big one.

  5. Will Vehrs Avatar
    Will Vehrs

    Paul, I just checked the State Recruit website


    and ran a search on DSS jobs that are posted. They have 13 entries. Eight are for “Support
    Enforcement Specialist,” starting salary of a whopping $28,143. A “Human Services Supervisor-Field” is advertised at a starting salary of $36K, with a “Program Consultant” needed at $36K-$75K. If finance is your field, DSS needs a CFO who can come in at $62K-$128K.

    I don’t know what this says about the workload at DSS. I added the salary info as a slight change of topic. I recently wrote that salary wasn’t the top issue I saw with the state workforce. Actually, I should have clarified that. I don’t think a pay raise is the top issue. What is really needed is to evaluate the salary structure for jobs across agency lines to make them compatible and competitive.

    I’d be willing to bet that a good “Support Enforcement Specialist” will work as hard and have as difficult a job as a desk jockey somewhere else making twice as much. The question is, is the state getting a good enforcement specialist for the kind of money they’re paying, and can we really expect productivity from a person working for that amount. Also, does an enforcement specialist have an opportunity to move up and does the state groom such employees to move up?

  6. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Even during the deepest darkest hours of the 2002-2003 budget crisis, one topic that never came up for discussion was re-evaluating compensation, benefits and incentives for state employees. The topic was never on the table.

  7. Allen from the Union Avatar
    Allen from the Union

    If reports from my Union Chapters at Wiliiamsburg, Petersburg and here in Staunton are accurate, mental health facilities are having problems both recruting and keeping staff. many direct care are forced to work overtime or “strongly encouraged”. Try working 8 hours in a mental health facility and toward the end of your shift find out you’re facing another 4-8 hours. It’ll make a grown man cry.

  8. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Allen from the Union, If your impressions are accurate, it sounds like the state’s labor relations practices are a holdover from the 1950s and 1960s.

  9. Allen from the Union Avatar
    Allen from the Union

    The Agency heads on up like to think everyone is happy and all runs smoothly. There’s no incentive in pointing out the obvious. There’s not going to be any additional funding unless the U.S. Department of Justice threatens to come in as happened some years ago at a number of the facilities.

  10. Interesting…I’ll pass that on to some people in Mental Health and I’ll get back to you…

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