Why I Wrote These Pages
Who I Am
Downsizing, Outsourcing, & Privatization Have Affected My Job
--One Explanation of Why
County Government Changed
--The Board of Supervisors Hires a Hatchetman
for All Seasons
--Departments are Reorganized.
Why I Wrote These
a story that Sojourner Truth was speaking out against slavery one day. An old man in the
audience heckled her: "Old woman, do you think that your talk about slavery
does any good? Why I don't care any more for your talk than I do for the bite of a
flea." "Perhaps not," she replied, "But the Lord willing, I'll keep
I believe that if you are not happy with the way
things are, then you have the responsibility to try to change things, even if all you can
do is talk.
Besides, if all of us are quiet,
they are going to think we are content.
Who I Am
I think when you read a web page you deserve to know
something about the writer. Below is a list of groups I belong to. The names with the
asterisk (*) are those I give money to. The groups are in chronological order, with the
groups I joined first at the top.
Local 535 SEIU*
San Diego Computer Society (Macintosh Division)*
Fan of the Group The Wild
San Diego S.T.A.R.
Darkstar: The Science Fiction &
Gaming Club at UCSD
International Dark-Sky Association (IDA)*
Digital Design & Electronic
Friends of Lulu*
HERC - Harlan Ellison Recording
San Diego Astronomy
San Diego Natural History Museum Association*
National Eligibility Workers Association (NEW)*
These pages were not written for, or at the request of , any group or organization. I
wrote these pages, and any mistakes in them are mine.
The content is my opinion, based on what I have seen, read, and heard. I am only one
person, and I am sure I have misinterpreted some of the things that have happened. Still,
someone needs to say something to balance the propaganda of The San Diego Union, The County
News (a paper newsletter for County Employees), The E-County Connection Newsletters (you
can download pdf copies from The IT Outsourcing
Synergy Bulletin, The
County Television Nework, and the San Diego
County Web Page.
I have tried to report what I have seen myself, or what has been reported by people I
trust. What I have identified as "rumors" are things that not could be verified.
Many years ago I worked for a small
non-profit company where the Personnel Manager had a special procedure for firing people
he didn't like: He would call them into his office on Friday evening and tell them they
were fired and not to come back. Then, over the weekend, he would have the furniture
rearranged. The rest of us would come to work on Monday and try to figure out where our
desks were, and then try to figure out who was gone.
I decided then that I
would find a job with more security. I went to work for the County of San Diego,
where I believed that if I did my job well I would have job security and I would be
treated with fairness.
Now the County is in
the middle of "downsizing", "privatizing", "outsourcing",
and "re-engineering". People are let go with a little more warning and instead
of moving the furniture around after they are gone, they rearrange the entire
organization, but still, I am left with the same feeling of insecurity that I had in the
In 1996, though, the Board of
Supervisors hired a new CEO nicknamed "Chainsaw", and he started to implement
things that somebody on the Board of Supervisors had read about in a book called Reinventing
Government. We were told that the County would be downsizing, and that an unspecified
number of positions would be cut both among lineworkers and middle management. They also
reorganized the lines of command, and talked about "flattening" the organization
so that there would fewer middle managers.
In January 1998 the department
where I work began Welfare Reform - a major revamping of Welfare. In addition to our
previous work we were expected to head clients towards job readiness, make sure that
pre-school children had up-to-date immunizations, school-age children were in
school, check law enforcement penalties for adults' felony drug convictions, and provide
"excellent customer service." Doing this, while the County reorganized and
downsized and privatized around us, was like living in a house that was being remodeled.
Change is nothing new in our job.
Each new administration institutes reforms and we rush to implement them. There will be
chaos for a few months, then problems will be resolved. This time, though, nobody seemed
to hear us when we tried to tell upper management that some things just weren't working
and clients just were not being served. They were too busy dealing with reorganizing,
downsizing, and privatizing.** Some people in my office
started leaving, retiring early, going on long-term disability leave. Some of those who
remained just seemed to be marking time, and worse, some people who had been excellent
workers told me that they no longer cared about doing the job well.
I started reading about downsizing, outsourcing,
and privatization, and comparing what was written with what was happening where I worked.
These pages may serve as some kind of historical document, if nothing else. I am told by
my betters that I don't see the big picture, and "we are really doing this for the
best reasons." Still there has been great devastation around me, and I think it
will be a long time before many line workers regain their trust and their loyalty to the
County. It didn't have to happen. I believe that you can change organizations without
taking a hatchet to them.
One Explanation of Why County Government Changed
told me that it all started when a member of the Board of Supervisors read the book Reinventing
Government. This book suggested that government could be improved by applying
principles of good business management. I got the book from the library and read it, then
bought and read the sequel, Banishing Bureaucracy. The main ideas of the
first book are: Catalytic
Government: "Steering Rather Than Rowing" (In other words, government is
best at providing policy, social equity, direction to the economy, and preventing
Government. - Empowering the citizens, rather than serving them. Competitive
Government: Injecting competition into service delivery . Mission-Driven
Government -Transforming rules-driven organizations. Results-Oriented
Government - Funding outputs, not inputs. Customer-Driven
Government - Meeting the needs of the customer, not the bureaucracy. Enterprising
Government - Earning rather than spending. Anticipatory
Government - Prevention rather than cure. Decentralized
Government - From hierarchy to participation and teamwork. Market
Oriented Government. - Levering Change Through The Market.
I do not think you can
blame a book for the damage done to the County by people who said they were acting under
its inspiration. If you compare the advice in the book to what actually happened, you can
see that a lot of crucial processes (like managed competition) were used only when it was
It seems like management has
always liked fads: we've had "Quality Circles", "Management by
Objective", "Empowerment", "Synergy", "Teamwork",
"Employee of the Month", "Employee Recognition", "Task
Forces", "Vision Planning", "Mission Statements" and
"Committees". If it's in Dilbert, we've done it.*
The Board of
Supervisors Hires a Hatchetman For All Seasons
The County Board of Supervisors hired a CAO to implement the
changes: to reorganize, downsize, and privatize. He was quickly nicknamed "Chainsaw", but I think that was exaggerating a bit --
he was no Al Dunlap (thank goodness!). He became a focus for all the discontent that the
changes caused, but many people forget that he was hired by the Board of
Supervisors. He was doing what he was told to do.
The rationale for management bonuses and salary increases was
that it rewarded managers who met their goals. Unfortunately, it created a lot of
ill-feeling among workers who felt that their manager's bonuses had been paid for by
cutting positions and increasing workload. Here is a partial list
of the bonuses.
From Silo to Ranch House: The organization was criticized for being
"top-down", with information going from management to lineworker, but in no
other direction. One solution was to "regionalize" so that now, instead of one
large silo, we have a lot of little Ponderosas. Do I think information is flowing any
better? No. Here is a
chart of before and after.
(to be continued - I'll be back after a short break)
for CIS 212
course, we all write Scott Adams to let him know what's going on. I bet you thought he
made that stuff up.
**I am not going into detail on the things that went wrong.
You can read about some of them in the San Diego Union, and you
will probably be reading about some more of them there in the future.