Book Review: “Extreme Government Makeover” and the change coming to TDOT

A couple of days ago I just finished the book “Extreme Government Makeover”. In my previous post I mentioned that this book had been given by TDOT Commissioner John Schroer to all of his Directors. This post is not going to be a review of the book, so much as what I think this all means for the local programs world and TDOT as a whole.

First off, the book is great and I really enjoyed it. Granted, my experience with State Government and TDOT is barely 5 years, but the author, Ken Miller hits the main issue on the head. That is that the problem with State Government is not horrible people, or fraud waste and abuse of ordering too many paperclips, but rather the “pipes” of government are constricted and rusty. Miller uses the analogy of water pipes to describe the flow of the processes that take place in government. Miller believes that if you focus on “straightening” the pipes of government you will improve capacity and make things run better, faster, and cheaper.

So great, the problem with why things are taking so long is a lack of capacity in the system. Now what? Part of his answer (and you really need to read the book) is to remove all of the CYA steps, unnecessary hand-offs, and “moldy thinking” to name a few solutions.

Now what does that mean for TDOT? Ah, now that is the question. Even to the casual observer there are a lot of things in play:

  1. A huge percentage of the people working at TDOT have over 30 years with the State and could walk out he door today and retire. With them would be an enormous amount of institutional knowledge that would walk out the door with them.
  2. You have a Civil Service System that does not allow you to hire the best and brightest, and takes forever to hire anyone even under the best of circumstances. I am sorry if that statement makes you angry, but it is the truth.
  3. The demands on TDOT are growing. 5 years ago their were a handful of projects being managed by local governments, today I estimate there are over 100. And this is just one example where TDOT is being asked to deliver more.
  4. The size of State Government is going to shrink. If anyone believes that they are not going to cut the total number of people working at TDOT then they are in dreamy world. How many people will be let go, how fast this will happen, and how this will be managed are all open questions. But bottom line the number of people working at TDOT the end of 2012 will be less than there are today, and probably even fewer by 2013.
  5. What will be the future role of consultants? I have seen the physical number of consultants working side by side with State Civil Service Employees, essentially doing the same work skyrocket. How this will play out, and the pros and cons of this debate are a separate topic altogether.
So back to the topic at hand, what does this book tell us about the possible changes coming to TDOT? It tells me that things will be changing pretty radically. If Commissioner Schroer is able to implement only 20% of what this book calls for it is going to upset a lot of people, and quite possibly make things run 60% more efficient. I am encouraged by the fact that the Commissioner is using this book as a reference. For me I see good things on the horizon at TDOT. Any way you look at it, it is going to be an interesting ride, so hold on!



About arran375

I work for Askew, Hargraves, Harcourt and Associates, Inc. here in Nashville, Tennessee. The short version of what I do is that we help local governments spend the Federal funds they get from TDOT on road, and bridge projects.
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