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Eye On Boise

ITD’s ‘major realignment’ and its timing…

It was early in the morning the day after the election when the Idaho Transportation Department announced a "major realignment" of the agency, aimed at reducing management employees, saving money and focusing resources on on-the-ground work. So why that timing? Eye on Boise asked Gov. Butch Otter, and he said, "How many times do we want to go through the debate on that? The Legislature still has to take a look at a lot of the things that we want to do there. I think it's important that we not confuse the issue."

He added, "Obviously we're anxiously awaiting the report of the governor's task force." That, he said, will include "charting some new waters" and "a 20-year vision," including "the revenue stream." Said Otter, "I think it's important that that debate begin. I support their efforts."

ITD spokesman Jeff Stratten said the realignment plan has been in the works since the department's new director, Brian Ness, came on board and began meeting with department employees last spring. "The pieces just came together just within the last week or so," Stratten said. He added, "The director has the authority to make organizational moves."

Stratten said, "The pieces came together just prior to the election and the decision was made to hold off on it, in hopes that we could ... not intermix it in the middle of all the election coverage." The department says the realignment won't mean layoffs, but instead will make changes as employees retire or leave; projections show 55 ITD employees who are supervisors will be eligible for retirement over the next two years. "It's possible that some people who once managed or supervised may no longer do so," Stratten said.

Ness said he determined that ITD now has as many as nine layers of management between front-line workers and the director; he plans to reduce that to five. Click below to read Ness' message to ITD employees about the realignment.

ITD employees,

When I became Director in January, I promised to meet and talk with as many of you as possible. Since last spring, I have visited with employees in every region of the state and at all divisions at Headquarters.

I learned that we have a hard-working, dedicated group of employees who told me they are capable and willing to do more. But I also learned we need to make changes to our layered organizational structure to be more efficient and accountable, and to provide the best possible customer service.

 Unfortunately, we are using 1960s government philosophies to run a 21st century organization. You are rewarded and promoted based on whether you supervise, not by the results you achieve. At ITD, you can be promoted to a supervisor position and only oversee the work of one subordinate.

 Our current system has built an organizational pyramid with numerous layers of supervision.

 Many of you told me you believe your hands are often tied. Those of you who want to solve problems must wait as decisions run the obstacle course of our bureaucracy. The bottom line is that too many approval steps are required to make decisions.

Here's what I found while looking at the organization:

There are as many as nine layers of management between the front line workers and myself.
There are 62 instances of one employee being managed by just one supervisor.
We have 11 assistant managers.
There is duplication of effort, especially between Headquarters and our district offices.

That's why today, after nine months of meeting with employees, elected officials and customers and assessing how the department operates, I am announcing a realignment of the organization. The realignment will improve customer service, efficiency and accountability and save a minimum of $1.5 million over the next two years. This will be accomplished by first reducing the layers of ITD management and second, giving decision-making back to employees who are closest to where the work is being done.

The new organization will have:
Five layers of supervision
Managers supervising an average of eight to 10 employees
The assistant managers will be eventually phased out
Minimized duplication of effort

The five layers will be organized as follows:

Director - serves at the pleasure of the transportation board and is responsible and held accountable for carrying out the goals of the Board and Governor.

Executive Officers - these positions are appointed by the Director and serve at my pleasure. The executive officers are responsible and held accountable for setting policy and effectively delivering services.

Administrator level - this level includes administrators in both our Headquarters and in the field. These individuals are responsible and held accountable for implementing programs within the established budget and deadlines.

Managerial level - this level turns programs into actions. These individuals are responsible and held accountable for managing projects or operations and for achieving specific results.

First line supervisors - this is the front line supervisory position for ITD. These individuals, along with their staff, are responsible and held accountable for performing the daily work.

Phase one of the realignment will start with the naming of the executive officers this month.

In the second phase of the realignment, I will ask the administrators and district engineers to make further recommendations on how functions and activities can be reduced to eliminate duplication and improve efficiency. Each will be required to submit a proposed organizational chart and a phase-in plan. I will expect to see recommendations before the end of the 2011 legislative session.

We will accomplish many of these changes through how we fill vacancies. When vacancies occur, the top priority will be to determine if the position could directly serve our customer, the Idaho taxpayer; or support those who serve the customers. If not, then we will determine whether to move it somewhere else in the organization or not fill the position.

Every effort will be made so that no employee loses his or her job in the realignment - although some employees who once managed or supervised may no longer do so.

With this realignment will come a change in focus and culture. You are being given your job back - to make decisions, find efficiencies and implement new ideas. It will make our decisions more transparent and accountable and I believe our performance more efficient and effective.

It will make all of us more accountable for our performance. I am convinced the best decisions are made closest to where the work is taking place or the operations are being performed. When that's not happening, I don't believe we are providing the best service to our customers.

 I understand change can be stressful when it is first announced. But with time and perspective, I am confident you will agree these changes will make us a stronger department and provide opportunities for you to better use your skills and experience.

 We have faced challenges before - from budget crunches to natural disasters to misperceptions about the department by the news media and elected officials - and each time we have emerged a better organization.

 Our realignment will help us meet these and other challenges and exceed expectations. We have done it before and we can do it again. We can become a national leader in transportation if we are all determined to work hard and together. We can reach that next level and become a model for all other state agencies and be the best DOT in the country!

Brian W. Ness

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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