As they put state programs and services on a diet, budget writers in the Legislature say they are trying to make sure some of the weight is lost near the top.
They face pressure from unions complaining that managers and back-office personnel aren’t being hit as hard as front-line workers.
“We have borne our burden. Now it’s management’s turn to sacrifice,” said James Robinson, a counselor at Western State Hospital and president of Local 793 of the Washington Federation of State Employees.
Ideas for cutting layers of bureaucracy will come forward as the 105-day legislative session progresses, but the first preview came in two orders buried deep in the short-term budget-cutting plan the Senate approved Friday.
Workers who promote agencies to the public and the news media are targeted by one, and managers in the state’s largest agency by the other.
There’s no guarantee either will end up being made. Gov. Chris Gregoire’s budget office sees logistical problems with the cuts.
GETTING THE WORD OUT
State agencies in the executive branch had 207 people working in communications and marketing when a count was done in June 2010. That doesn’t count the Legislature, the courts, universities, colleges or school districts.
They are the public relations workers who respond to the news media’s requests, manage advertising and sales programs, and deliver information and their bosses’ messages through press releases, websites, social networking, reports to the Legislature and publications.
Some take confusing data and put it into a form people can understand, said Gregoire’s budget director, Marty Brown, while others disseminate important information on topics like the recent slaying of a prison guard that received national attention.
“I don’t know what we would do if we didn’t have the communications guys from Corrections handling the tragic events up in Monroe this week,” Brown said.
Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, sees the jobs differently. State agencies promote themselves through public relations for much the same reason they send lobbyists to the Legislature, he said: to build support for their efforts to grow bigger or minimize cuts.
“When we’re making tough cuts, why should they be out there self-aggrandizing what they’re doing?” Tom said. “Provide the service and that should be the end of it.”
It’s not clear how many workers would go, or not be replaced, should the Senate’s proposed cut of $1 million over four months go through.
The number of PR jobs stayed roughly level between June 2009 and June 2010. More recent numbers were not available, but several of them have been filled under exemptions to the state hiring freeze.
There have been cuts. The Department of Personnel, for example, avoided filling an open job during an early round of budget cutting, communications consultant Jennifer Reynolds said. The agency still has five communications workers who keep employees updated about what the agency is doing and talk to the outside world about the state work force.
“It’s not just PR,” Reynolds said. “We’re communicators; we’re not so much marketers.”
Under the Senate plan, one of this year’s cuts to the Department of Social and Health Services, $1.7 million, would have to come from management.
DSHS would struggle to make those cuts on top of the millions of dollars worth of back-office positions it has already eliminated as it has slimmed down from more than 20,000 workers to 17,600 in less than three years, Chief Financial Officer Gary Robinson said. The agency also plans to consolidate its six regional divisions into three.
The agency has shed nearly a fifth of its middle-managers classified as Washington Management Service, 275 people, according to Robinson. Also gone, he said, are 68 workers exempt from civil-service rules, a group that includes top managers and is now down to 222 people.
But Western State Hospital’s James Robinson said workers there have noticed that management tends to be cut by attrition, while dozens of nurses and other frontline workers have been laid off.
He said the cuts have done little to reverse a trend of the hospital adding more and more supervisors over the years. When he wants a day off, James Robinson said, he approaches his immediate supervisor, who goes to a coordinator, who goes to a unit director to sign off on the request.
Lawmakers are listening to the complaints. “When you talk to the Western State employees, they say, ‘I’ve got too many bosses,’” said Rep. Larry Seaquist, a Gig Harbor Democrat.
The Legislature has put curbs on management in place before, and Seaquist said he is working on more as part of the two-year budget solution.
Agencies, not just DSHS, are “stuffed full of supervisors of supervisors,” he said.
Sen. Steve Conway, D-Tacoma, said the issue has come up in Senate Democrats’ private caucus meetings.
“I was very surprised at the caucus support for it,” Conway said. “There are a lot of folks who feel the governor has not done enough to look at the administrative sides of these large government operations.”
Brown, of Gregoire’s budget office, said administration is the first place the office looks for cuts. But Congress and the Legislature want audits, reviews and oversight, which require supervision, he said.
Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/politics