San Diego wants to cut some red tape — and it’s handing the scissors to city employees.
The city is launching a new academy to teach its workers how to slice costs and streamline operations while reducing the need for layoffs or cuts to essential services, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. The launch comes at a critical time, because rising pension costs may mean a leaner city budget going forward.
The academy builds “on a 2015 program called San Diego Works, where more than 500 of the city’s 11,000 employees suggested streamlining and cost-cutting ideas that now save the city about $1.3 million per year,” according to the Union-Tribune.
Some examples of ideas put forward in 2015 include “revamping trash routes, using cheaper envelopes, shrinking overtime by shifting schedules for maintenance workers at city pools and reducing printing costs by using less blue ink on city stationery.” Overall, employees were encouraged to step away from the notion that a procedure should continue simply because that’s the way it had always been done.
Building on those ideas, the city’s Performance and Analytics Department has streamlined several services — it’s quickened the replacement of streetlight bulbs, improved the sorting of library materials and reduced the answering time for 911 calls by improving computer screen visibility for dispatch managers and re-routing non-emergency calls.
Under that program, though, employees only came up with the ideas. Now, the city wants to teach them how to implement them independently. Classes began in February, and according to the city’s website, three levels of instruction (“champion, introductory and advanced”) are on offer.
According to the Union-Tribune, the initial San Diego Works program was based on a similar initiative in Denver. That program, called “Peak Performance,” aimed to do more with less as well, and addressed the mayor’s key priorities while saving $10 million annually, Governing Magazine reported in 2013.
The magazine added:
Those with government experience are all too familiar with the “wait-it-out” approach many workers take when faced with new ways of doing things that may well disappear after the next election.
That’s what distinguishes the Peak Performance approach. Instead of outside experts telling city workers how to do their jobs better, it invests in employees by giving them the tools to solve city problems themselves.
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.