Regarding Max Stier’s June 14 commentary, “There’s an HR crisis in the federal government,” there’s a similar crisis in state government, and the underlying causes are the same. Stier lists problems including pay disparity between private and public employees, inadequate training and development, little accountability for employee performance and outcomes, and a profound gap in trust between employees and their supervisors. He notes that good work is infrequently recognized and that poor employee performance often goes unaddressed. Furthermore, “in information technology — those who make sure that computer networks function and are protected from hackers — there are five times as many people over 60 as there are under 30.”
More than 20 years ago, I was recruited to a state agency to lead the development of a pilot project within the Minnesota’s IT Support Services division. This is the same division responsible for the $93 million Minnesota Licensing and Registration System (MNLARS) fiasco. I left five years later exasperated with the inefficiencies and mismanagement I witnessed. A colleague confided that he was too close to retirement to leave but that anyone younger would be wasting their time and skills to stay.
I witnessed a group of five IT professionals be hired then wait at their desks for three weeks for their computers to be delivered. No one had ordered their computers until they walked through the door. Salaries paid while drinking coffee.
The pilot project I led was successful, thanks in large part to a group of outside stakeholders who invested time and talent to guiding the project’s development. Not only were our successes not recognized by my supervisor or the agency’s leaders, but when I asked for someone to be cross-trained in how the system we were developing operated in case anything happened to me, I was told that the agency didn’t have the budget or personnel for cross-training and in fact it was going to have to check with the union to see if the long hours I was investing in the project’s success (although I never claimed overtime) could continue to be permitted. Demoralizing? Absolutely.
I could, but will not, give many more examples.
Certainly, you think, much would have changed in 20 years, but more recently I worked for an organization that’s regulated by a different state agency. Several years ago, in an effort to increase the rigor of its enforcement, the agency introduced a lengthy form to be completed by the many organizations it regulates. The form couldn’t be completed by computer, because the agency personnel said they didn’t know how to create an electronic form. They advised that the form could be handwritten or typed — as in with a typewriter. At the time, the young administrative professional who worked with me said she’d never even used a typewriter! “Where would you find one? ‘Antiques Roadshow’?” So she converted the state’s form into an electronic form, and we provided it to the agency on a thumb drive. The agency declined to use it because it might transmit a virus into the state’s computer system. So we offered to walk agency staff members through the simple process of creating an electronic form. They declined.
In the meantime, I’ve retired. But last month I ran into an old colleague and she told me the agency has just introduced a newer form — but it still has to be handwritten or typed.
I know there are many skilled and dedicated state employees across Minnesota. I also know that many are gritting their teeth until they can retire. Stier’s recommendations for pay equity, skills and management training, recruiting talent and public/private talent exchanges should be implemented across Minnesota state government, because as he also says: “Whether one favors a bigger or smaller government, it is in everyone’s interest that it does whatever it is doing well.”
Sheila Miller lives in Golden Valley.