Changing the subject and making excuses

by Robert Maynard

In the wake of Randy Brock’ assertion that the overtime scandal was a symptom of “poor managerial oversight for allowing state employees to accumulate $16.27 million in overtime and $7.3 million worth of compensatory time off“, some politicians and media figures seem to be trying to change the subject.  In the case of media figures, the ploy is to completely ignore to whole subject and focus on comments made by the Governor of Maine about the threat posed to liberty by the IRS:

While Shumlin’s sudden conference was in response to a breaking news event – Deeghan resigned from his post at around 10 a.m. Tuesday, officials said – Brock’s hastily called presser did not appear to be tied to a current event.

One reporter asked Brock if the late addition to his schedule was an attempt to buffer against headlines about an incident that morning in which Maine Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, reaffirmed a statement he made last weekend in which he compared the Internal Revenue Service with Nazi Germany’s Gestapo. Jewish groups have asked for a public apology.

Simply because he did not immediately call a press conference after the news of the overtime scandal, the argument is that his press conference  was not”tied to a current event”.  Instead of engaging in a discussion on the legitimacy of the argument that the current matter reflects poor management of state government, we are left with media types chasing after the totally irrelevant issue of what the governor of Maine said.  I would like to suggest that the former is of far more relevance to Vermont’s taxpayers than the latter.

Media types are not the only ones changing the subject.  After initially acknowledging that there was a problem, some of the Shumlin administration officials seem to be changing their tune.  Spaulding had originally responded to Brock’s claims of mismanagement by acknowledging that there was a problem, but the problem was one inherited from the previous administration and that the current administration was getting things under control:

Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding argued the Shumlin administration has been working on the problem — which it inherited from the previous governor.

“I am perfectly happy to defend our record,” Spaulding said. “We have a strong management record.”

Now Spaulding seems to be arguing that there really is no problem with poor government management, but with the cutting back on government employees: “If you cut 650 employees, you still have to guard the prisons, plow roads and protect the public,” Spaulding said. “It’s no surprise it (overtime) went up.”

The problem with this argument is that private sector entities have been forced to cut back on employees and have still been able to keep up with delivering goods and services by increasing both productivity and quality through such efforts as Lean Six Sigma.  When I was at IBM, the catch phrase on everyone’s lips was “doing more with less”.  We have all heard about the loss of jobs in U.S. Manufacturing.  What fewer of us have heard about is the revolution in productivity.  Consider the following from a February 2011 Wall Street Journal article:

International data compiled by the United Nations on global output from 1970-2009 show this success story.  Excluding recession-related decreases in 2001 and 2008-09, America’s manufacturing output has continued to increase since 1970. In every year since 2004, manufacturing output has exceeded $2 trillion (in constant 2005 dollars), twice the output produced in America’s factories in the early 1970s. Taken on its own, U.S. manufacturing would rank today as the sixth largest economy in the world, just behind France and ahead of the United Kingdom, Italy and Brazil.

In 2009, the most recent full year for which international data are available, our manufacturing output was $2.155 trillion (including mining and utilities). That’s more than 45% higher than China’s, the country we’re supposedly losing ground to. Despite recent gains in China and elsewhere, the U.S. still produced more than 20% of global manufacturing output in 2009.

The truth is that America still makes a lot of stuff, and we’re making more of it than ever before. We’re merely able to do it with a fraction of the workers needed in the past.

Consider the incredible, increasing productivity of America’s manufacturing workers: The average U.S. factory worker is responsible today for more than $180,000 of annual manufacturing output, triple the $60,000 in 1972.

Vermont’s taxpayers would all be better off if our media figures and politicians started to engage in a conversation about bringing such a management revolution to state government instead of changing the subject and making excuses.