Law to Reduce State Supervisors Never Fully Implemented Print
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Written by Lynn Campbell   
Friday, 18 November 2011 05:52

A law aimed at slashing the number of supervisors overseeing the work of Iowa state employees has never been fully implemented.

Lawmakers learned November 16 that Senate File 2088, the government reorganization bill signed into law in 2010, has languished because of a lack of feedback.

The law was designed to save the state money by finding efficiencies in government. It called for a “span of control,” with a goal of one supervisor for every 15 workers.

But Jeff Panknen, chief operating officer for the Iowa Department of Administrative Services’ Human Resources Enterprise, on November 16 told a panel of lawmakers that the Iowa Department of Management never gave feedback on a draft policy to implement the law in April 2010, so nothing was formalized.

“Span of control as an actual policy has not been implemented, but efforts are still being made to implement span-of-control improvements,” he said.

Nonetheless, Panknen said the state reduced its number of supervisors from 1,936 to 1,660, for a 14.26 percent decline, between January 2010 and last month. Having 276 fewer supervisors produced an estimated savings of more than $24 million in salaries and benefits, he said.

The state has 19,043 employees in its executive branch – 1,660 supervisors and 17,383 staffers, for a span of control of 1-to-10.5. Span of control varies from 1-to-24 in the governor’s office to 1-to-2.75 in the state auditor’s office.

Members of the legislature’s State Government Efficiency Review Committee questioned the effectiveness of requiring a certain supervisor-to-staff ratio in state agencies.

“It seems to me that there is some flaw in the law when we do an over-reaching average like we put in the law and expect it to work for everybody, because clearly, it doesn’t,” said state Representative Ralph Watts (R-Adel). “It’s a laudable goal, but it’s very difficult ... to get that to fit on a universal basis.”

Danny Homan, president of the American Federation of State, County, & Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Iowa Council 61, in November 2009 called on the state to enforce a “span of control” of one manager to every 14 state employees as a way to save money. He estimated that there was one supervisor for every seven or eight state workers at the time.

“We have too many supervisors,” he said. “We should get rid of some of them. We don’t need that many.”

Homan on November 16 criticized Governor Terry Branstad’s administration for not trying to reduce the number of supervisors in state government. He said the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs recently laid off 10 unionized state workers but hired two deputy directors. Data that Panknen presented Wednesday to the committee shows that department has a span of control of 1-to-7.

“We don’t need a span of control of 1-to-10 in state government,” Homan said. “One-to-15 is adequate – more than adequate.”

Lawmakers Call for Better Data to Prevent Double-Dipping

A panel of state lawmakers on November 16 called for better data to ensure Iowa state employees aren’t collecting government pensions and salaries at the same time, or “double-dipping.”

“We have had anecdotal evidence that many of those folks are getting re-employed and are paid higher than they were when they were a state employee,” said state Representative Mary Mascher (D-Iowa City), who didn’t offer any specifics. “Those are the ones that concern me.”

State Representative Guy Vander Linden (R-Oskaloosa) said the state needs to keep better track of such cases.

“If the whole purpose of getting people to retire early ... is to save money, it doesn’t make much sense to pay them more,” he said.

At least 59 people who retired from state government have been rehired between Fiscal Year 2009 and today, according to data presented November 16 by the Iowa Department of Administrative Services to the legislature’s 10-member State Government Efficiency Review Committee.

That includes two who took early retirement, the 2010 program in which those with at least 10 years of employment could receive up to $25,000 – $1,000 for each year of service – and a health-insurance benefit for five years. It also includes 41 workers who participated in a program that encouraged them to conserve their sick leave so they’d get more credit toward their health-insurance premiums after they retired.

Senate File 2062, signed into law in 2010, prohibited state employees who took early retirement from coming back as an independent contractor or a permanent employee. A total of 2,067 employees participated in the program. But lawmakers said November 16’s numbers don’t include state employees who become private contractors.

“The question becomes again: Are they doing the same job?” Mascher said. “Because we’ve been told in some of those departments, they’re doing exactly the same thing they were doing as a state employee, and now they’re being paid higher. Those are the kinds of things that I think are alarming and of concern to folks who are watchdogging that.”

Lawmakers also said they found it frustrating that the state has no centralized database for information about retirees coming back to work.

“We seem to be dancing around this. Is there somebody we can actually talk to in state government who has this information, so we can get some data and information here on how this works?” asked state Senator Bob Dvorsky (D-Coralville), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “If there are some improprieties going on here, we need to get to the root of it.”

A review earlier this month by the Associated Press found that tens of thousands of state and public-school employees nationwide are drawing government salaries along with their pensions. In California, New York, Texas, Florida and Michigan, at least 66,000 government retirees also receive taxpayer-funded paychecks, the AP said.

Iowa has had its own examples of double dipping. The AP reported in February that Branstad, who previously served as governor from 1983 to 1999 and returned to office in January, is collecting both a $130,000 salary as governor and a state pension worth more than $50,000 per year for earlier service.

AFSCME’s Homan said that under the administration of former Democratic Governor Tom Vilsack, from 1999 to 2006, many department heads took retirement incentives and came back as consultants or temporary employees.

“We did not want to see a repeat of that,” Homan said. “I think it’s inherently unfair to be drawing your IPERS [Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System pension] and coming back and working in a state job.”

Expect the issue to be taken up in the 2012 legislative session, said state Senator Jeff Danielson (D-Cedar Falls), the committee’s co-chair.

“I don’t feel comfortable with understanding the full universe of public employees who have retired and have then been re-employed,” Danielson said. “We’ve got some work to do in terms of trying to get a real picture of what’s going on here.”

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