There are a lot of smart, talented, hard-working, and well-intentioned people in government but, according to a new report, they simply don’t have the management skills necessary for the job. “I think the problem we’re facing is that the managing of large organizations, and state government in particular, has gotten exceptionally more complex over the last several decades, and that we have under-invested in developing our managers.”
Robin Gates is author of the report released by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. He says in some situations people are in the wrong jobs, or those who are talented for management aren’t adequately trained and developed.
Gates, who had served as a division administrator in several state agencies and as a vice president at Alliant Energy, acknowledges that change is hard to overcome and it will be a slow process, especially with decades of bureaucratic inertia. “Things have, I think, deteriorated over decades, so it’s not one (political) party or another party. And, I think, some of the trends have been affecting both public and private organizations.”
Gates says “crisis” is not too strong a word to describe what many government agencies face; examples of poor management are prevalent. Gates cites recent state information technology problems resulting in about $170 million of waste, and $20 million in fraudulent claims to Wisconsin Shares in 2008.
Gates says essential services need to be well-managed to get a good value for the tax dollar. “Whether it’s caring for the disabled, educating our kids, keeping us safe, these are things you don’t want to not do a good job at.”
The challenge is to focus on the management component of leadership roles in state agencies. Gates says subject matter expertise is no longer enough; state government is a large and complex organization under tremendous pressure to perform. There are 74,000 state government employees and an annual budget of $31 billion. Yet Wisconsin state government is like a Fortune 200 company using management practices from 30 years ago. He also recommends changes to the civil service system.
Gates had been invited to discuss this issue with the governor and his cabinet.