Malloy administration looks to efficiency, employee ideas to save millions
Million-dollar suggestions: Employees offer Malloy ways to save money through efficiency; unions hope state will listen
Updated 9:42 am, Monday, July 11, 2011
Two years ago, the gym floor at H.C. Wilcox Technical High School in Meriden was replaced after the wood buckled.
The cause, according to Principal Richard Cavallaro, was a thermostat regulated by an off-site company.
"We can't control it. We have to ask the company to put the air conditioning lower, raise it. Also the heat," Cavallaro said. "The humidity built up so badly in the gym (and) they didn't respond. We had pipes dripping water on the floor."
These are the kinds of costly problems Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's administration wanted to hear about early this year. The effort led to $270 million worth in savings calculated into the $1.6 billion concessions package the governor and labor negotiators struck this spring, a deal recently shot down.
If not revived and ratified, union leaders fear members will lose their best opportunity in years to establish a process for slashing red tape and allowing public employees to have their budget-cutting ideas respected and enacted.
"Without a concessions agreement, we remain committed to finding efficiencies," said Matt O'Connor, spokesman for the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition. "This agreement provided a real clear path to get there."
As part of the concessions with Malloy, the administration was to unite with labor to form joint technology and labor management committees charged with making government more efficient while improving services.
The governor's staff said the arrangement would save $270 million over two years, but details were vague. Critics who already considered the deal light on actual givebacks, argued the governor was relying on a glorified "suggestion box."
SEBAC recently provided Hearst Connecticut Media Group a 12-page spreadsheet containing 344 ideas, a majority of which were the basis for the concessions calculations.
According to labor officials, the problem has been getting someone, anyone -- particularly managers and the past two Republican administrations -- to listen without a formal arrangement forcing the issue.
"Are these good ideas? Yes. Is there a bureaucracy that exists within the management structure that's going to `pooh pooh' every idea? Sure," said Bob Rinker, a union leader since 1984. "The (concessions) agreement was to smash that culture and say, `Listen, we can do a better job delivering public services if we actually listen to front-line workers.' "
Most of the recommendations involved reducing reliance on consultants, long a labor gripe.
In the past, for example, the Department of Information Technology has been cited by state auditors for having 200 open-ended contracts with outside vendors, many of which, according to DOIT's website, date to the 1980s.
Other suggestions ranged from general to agency specific. Employees called for greater use of email to eliminate paper costs, requiring staff to look up phone numbers online rather than calling information, providing more telecommuting options and cutting energy use, particularly after hours.
Department of Public Safety workers suggested saving time and gas by eliminating roll call for state troopers. Department of Transportation staff said they could save money by keeping better track of tools in stockrooms.
Mark Ojakian, Malloy's lead negotiator, cited his favorite example of waste. Some state colleges, despite employing maintenance staff to deal with plumbing and electrical issues, frequently call a private contractor first.
"There was also one agency with consultants overseeing consultants," Ojakian said.
Ojakian said the $270 million worth of savings from the union ideas was an estimate. But it was also a far more conservative figure than the $1.5 billion that O'Connor said labor leaders initially said they could achieve.
Some of the cost savings can still be pursued without a concessions agreement. Malloy, for example, has reorganized DOIT and hired a new information technology director charged with scrutinizing the 200 contracts.
But Budget Secretary Benjamin Barnes said the joint technology and labor management committees would have codified a spirit of cooperation and made it easier to implement many of the improvements. That spirit, he said, may not exist if the concessions are not salvaged and Malloy orders thousands of layoffs to balance the budget.
If the state workforce is gutted, remaining staff likely will be consumed with trying to maintain basic services rather than pursuing the savings suggestions from the front lines.
"I think it's going to be a little while to put management effort into those activities," Barnes said.
Staff writer Brian Lockhart can be reached at email@example.com