John Florez: State government should invest in people, not process

Published: Saturday, Nov. 30 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

In preoccupation with efficiency, forgotten is empathy vital in the cost-effective delivery of service to the public. It starts with investing in people.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

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The Utah Department of Workforce Services (DWS) legislative audit released last week reminds me of the former Soviet Union's idea of efficiency. Urban legend has it that Moscow ordered a nail factory to produce 10 tons of nails, and it did; it produced 10 nails, each weighing one ton. That seems to be what happened at DWS with the former executive director’s drive for efficiency. Efficiency appeared to be more important than effectiveness — process over results.

Lawmakers requested the latest legislative audit based on complaints from current and former DWS employees about the unfair treatment they said they received, and from community advocates who also complained of insensitive treatment their clients received. The audit found an agency fraught with “frustration and unrest among past and present employees.” The former DWS director implemented a pay for performance (PFP) program to promote greater efficiency.

According to the audit, the PFP for management and supervisors did not “demonstrate greater efficiency.” The audit identified PFP design and implementation flaws including that it lacked "baseline determination data … resulted in inequitable opportunities to earn incentives … and did not fully recognize the collaborative nature” of the work. Furthermore, management ignored its own internal audit findings indicating managers should not receive incentive pay since it is based “on others’ work performance.”

A previous audit conducted in 2009 found other management problems. DWS had allowed a $28.1 million error in entering Medicaid eligibility costs. That function had been transferred from the health department to DWS as a cost-saving move. What happened to those in need for whom that program was intended to serve? Were they still helped? In another instance, it was found that DWS had released confidential information on about 1,300 clients.

Such a record of complaints and audit findings show how an agency administrator can lose focus of the agency’s legislative intent if not periodically held accountable for results. Because government agencies are monopolies, they tend to be more concerned about process rather than results. This is especially true for agencies such as DWS that are supposed to serve those in need in keeping with our values — those who have no voice to speak on their own behalf. Bureaucracies justify their existence by showing how efficiently they are doing things right, rather than doing the right thing.

It is disturbing to see how the management problems found in the previous DWS audit seem to have been dismissed so readily. Shortly before the recent audit was requested, the governor promoted the former director to be his director of policy and budget. One has to wonder how private business would handle an administrator with such a management record. The last audit reveals an agency only focused on efficiency rather than effectiveness. Efficiency without being customer driven and investing in staff is a recipe for failure.

As Robert Galvin, former chairman of Motorola once noted, “Leadership is a crucial factor. … Leaders must have the courage to take a risk and believe in the abilities of the people in their organization. … Leaders must establish an environment in which workers feel respected and valued.”

In preoccupation with efficiency, forgotten is empathy vital in the cost-effective delivery of service to the public. It starts with investing in people.

Utah native John Florez has been on Sen. Orrin Hatch's staff, served as Utah industrial commissioner and filled White House appointments, including deputy assistant secretary of labor and commission on Hispanic education. Email: jdflorez@comcast.net

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