Joyce Turner, director at DES, said in an interview Wednesday that her agency has made a slew of changes expected to save $31 million to $37 million in the next two-year budget cycle.
That includes cutting 37 jobs in the past year and consolidating vehicle fleets from various agencies in a bid to eliminate 500 state-owned cars and trucks. More important, she is combining back-office jobs in accounting and payroll into a single office that serves multiple other agencies.
Overall, Turner said, the consolidation of five agencies into three is working.
Last year, Turner’s agency offered to give up $27 million in funding, and this year she says she has asked Gov. Chris Gregoire’s budget office to recommend another cut to the Legislature. The newest cut could total as much as 7.5 percent of the agency’s $491 million ongoing two-year budget, which pays a range of areas such as personnel, accounting, real estate and groundskeeping.
“We as an agency said we’d behave differently than others … As we identified savings and we identified areas we could cut back, we would be forthcoming and we would do it,” Turner said.
Gregoire pushed for the DES consolidations in 2011. The outgoing Democratic governor is scheduled to put out her budget for 2013-15 on Tuesday.
Office of Financial Management spokesman Ralph Thomas said his office was declining to comment about details of the budget until that happens. But a smaller budget request is an anomaly for Olympia agencies — at least if the governor has not specifically asked for cuts.
Of the savings, $23 million is a reduction in base operating costs, including the reductions in personnel in various areas of the agency, according to DES finance director Bob Van Schoorl.
The agency isn’t cutting staff but is taking advantage of departures and looking hard before filling positions, Turner said.
Van Schoorl said DES now is asking the Legislature to authorize use of $6 million of the projected savings to cover other costs. These include $3.5 million to cover the higher rent in the agency’s new stone-clad building (which the state eventually will own); $1.3 million to complete computer upgrades that allow better tracking of the state’s costs for information technology; and other money to improve mapping systems of a few natural-resources agencies and also to track students’ progress from preschool to universities.
Early skeptics of the merger are softening their criticisms, including Rep. Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila, who chairs a House budget oversight committee that has looked carefully at the transformed agencies. After meeting with Turner recently, he said he came away thinking “things are moving along well.”
Turner said the savings are the result of efficiencies that came from taking all or part of the five merged agencies — Personnel, General Administration, Information Services, Financial Management and Printing. The changes killed off GA, Information Services and Personnel and led to creation of DES and another new agency that provides data services to agencies.
Among the savings:
• About $6 million per biennium came from negotiating a new office-supplies contract for such things as printer ink, toner and copy paper. That reduced the number of agency options from about 60,000 to 3,600.
• The agency runs the State Motor Pool, and it has been bringing more agencies’ fleets into the master fleet while reducing the number of vehicles owned and maintained by almost 500. New systems for reserving cars and picking up keys let more people use fewer vehicles. A review of vehicle use and purchases had led to fewer SUVs and more fuel-efficient cars.
• Combined back-office functions from multiple agencies is reducing personnel needs.
• The agency also is merging multiple payroll and personnel systems, and use of an automated timekeeping system by 27 agencies is cutting staff time by two-thirds. DES says there are more than 100 systems to track workers’ work time and leave across state government, and some are paper-based.
• A review of computer applications revealed 350 to 400 inherited from the five agencies. At least 69 were declared redundant, and half of those have been eliminated.
Apart from the operations budget, DES is asking for $87 million in capital budget funding to help it catch up on maintenance of state-owned facilities, most on the Capitol Campus. Big pieces include almost $4.9 million for the next phase of repairs to the Natural Resources Building roof, $4.5 million to finish window repairs at that building, and several million to stop water from infiltrating an East Plaza garage, the Temple of Justice and the Insurance Building.
Gov.-elect Jay Inslee has told state agency heads they should apply if they want to stay on after he is sworn in Jan. 16. Turner said she is offering to stay on and help the incoming administration but said the new governor has lots of decisions to make.
She said that if she’s not hired, “I think they can carry on. I’m not worried about that.”