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States and localities can’t get much done, without the people to do it

Few challenges crop up with as much regularity in state and local audits as a lack of capacity – an absence of people, dollars, skills, and equipment to get jobs done.

You might think this would be obvious. Everyone knows that you can’t lift a heavy fifteen foot piece of lumber without at least two people – one at each end. And yet, it’s surprising how many governments try to accomplish something very similar in service delivery.

As Berkeley, California’s longtime auditor Ann-Marie Hogan wrote in a recent newsletter, “The City’s most important asset is its people. An immediate risk to operations and strategic, long-term planning is workload capacity: Does the City have the staff resources to provide expected, promised and critical services.”

We asked Hogan where she thought workload issues were the most intense? “I particularly see capacity issues in support departments – IT and Finance – because of the nature of the work,” wrote Hogan in an e-mail to us. “There is also a problem with turnover, particularly noticeable in those two departments, at least in part because the dot-com explosion of jobs in our region is sucking up the talent.”

There’s some irony to the fact that Hogan’s audit office has its own resource issues (as do many of its peers). Hogan has had to delay several planned audits , because of staff turnover in her office, as well as staff turnover in other departments.

We wondered why, in relatively robust economic times in California, capacity worries are escalating. One reason, she said, was that the large ambitious projects, made possible when there’s money available, eat up staff time like a school of killer sharks. For example, Berkeley, is tackling decades of deferred maintenance and the implementation of a new and much needed enterprise-wide technology system.

Just as in 12-step programs, one of the keys to dealing with capacity issues is recognizing that they exist in the first place. Hogan is tackling  the problem head on with several of her planned 2018 audits including a look at capacity issues for public safety dispatchers and a look at workload issues for the city’s code enforcement.


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