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Smarter bureaucracy may follow big Jindal state job cuts

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s roundabout plan to squeeze more efficiency out of Louisiana’s bloated, inefficient bureaucracy continues to succeed at great cost savings to taxpayers, and may pick up even more momentum at the beginning of next year after time out for fall elections.

On multiple occasions Jindal has pushed for reform of the state’s civil service system, which does little to tie pay to performance and, until he successfully agitated for the change, previously also only tenuously connected performance to reductions in force. But with a State Civil Service Commission full of members from his predecessor, it failed to present reforms that would produce the wholesale changes he sought.

As a result, he scaled back his efforts and concentrated on reform from the flanks.
While no governor likes to have budgetary shortfalls, Jindal used that problem to slice away at the number of state jobs and refusal of “merit” pay that in reality worked as cost-of-living increases (changing this being the main objective of his desired reforms), and also, in order to deal with the problem of underfunded pension obligations, proposed changes to make the retirement system somewhat less over-generous. Even though to retirement contributions regrettably got shunted aside, these alterations combined had the effect of encouraging less-capable employees disproportionately to leave the active system, although these also combined with the lack of reform also likely encouraged some higher-performing employees (who stood to gain the most from the reform) to bolt to the private sector as well.

Since halting direct reform efforts, Jindal has appointed new members to the SCSC presumably more amenable to his goal of linking pay and performance. Now it plans on taking up a third attempt to put out a plan Jindal likes – which it has every incentive to do since Jindal can budget again not to include any “merit” increases with the implicit threat this will continue until a plan to his liking emerges. Not surprisingly, given this is an election year, the details won’t be presented that might provide talking points to his opposition (if any) until after Jindal expectedly gets reelected, but they should look very close to the plan Jindal has preferred before.

If that effort to improve efficiency per state employee has made limited progress, the one to reduce the bloat of state employees has experienced much more of it. With the number of full-time equivalent employees now down to the lowest levels in two decades and no calamities befalling the state in terms of service provision as more excitable opponents of reducing state spending ignorantly claimed, Louisiana seems on the path to right-sizing state government.

(In an article describing the downward trajectory of the number of state employees, unfortunately the Baton Rouge Advocate reads in a way that produces the wrong impression – even though the reporter involved in the past usually gets it right and the misimpression may have come in part from a statement of shocking ignorance from a state official that should know better. The article, making the same error as did Treasurer John Kennedy in the recent past, asserts that all unclassified employees of the state are political appointees, reinforced by the fact that Deputy Director of Civil Service Jean Jones said the number of reductions of unclassified employees was not tracked by her department because they are at-will employees without job protection. In fact, the large majority of unclassified employees works in higher education, including the charity hospital system, and undergo merit procedures in hiring and pay issues and have an extensive set of protections from arbitrary firing. How Jones seems unaware of this is as mysterious as Kennedy not having known it.)

Just since the he has taken office, the FTE reductions work out to, using the latest state report (which gives an FTE figure of 78,780) to determine an average salary of about $49,000 in the executive branch, nearly $725 million is being saved annually by these cuts (although this figure should be somewhat lower given that some of these positions have been contracted out, but also do not include total compensation, which probably exceeds these contracting costs). Given that employment rose sharply then reached a plateau in the mid-2000s, that Jindal has decisively reversed this trend to such a degree especially is commendable.

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