Bush School Students Review New Orleans’ Civil Service System
June 10, 2010
When newly elected New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu set out to reorganize city governance, he soon realized that systemic change required more than just imposing new lines of authority and responsibility. There was also a need to determine what was and wasn’t working; and for that, he needed data.
Landrieu and his staff soon realized that one key set of information was missing—the effectiveness of a civil service staff significantly reduced by post-Katrina budget constraints and laboring under an increased demand for services.
In a Times Picayune article, written by Ben Myers, Landrieu made clear just how challenging the problem was. “There is no data in City Hall,” Landrieu said. “There is very little measurement of anything that has been done, from budget to operations to performance.” Asked what his administration must do to obtain the information it needs, Landrieu offered a one-word response: “Everything.”
With fewer workers and pressing demands from citizens striving to recover from the hurricane disaster, it is increasingly critical that the city manage its employees well, and ensure efficient public services. That’s where the Bush School entered the picture. Led by Professor Arnold Vedlitz, and supported by a grant from the Business Council of New Orleans, a team of students—Caleb Osborne, Keich Whicker, Matt Creel, Jim Reed, Joey Reed, Greg Davis and Jennifer Lindley—conducted a review of the city’s Department of Civil Service. By focusing on the municipal civil service, the study offered new insights into how City Hall was functioning—or not. The team’s findings illustrated a system in which managers have little authority, there is no effective evaluation process, and they are woefully short of data needed to make good personnel decisions. And because the Department regulates all classified city employees, its operations affect most all city functions.
The Times Picayune article about the civil service review quoted Capstone team member Keich Whicker: “Civil Service can’t tell you on a day-to-day basis how many people are working for the city. They can’t tell you how many jobs that are outstanding have been filled. They can’t tell you how many jobs are open.” Whicker was among those who conducted interviews with city officials at all levels and analyzed current city practices.
Vedlitz said that the end result of the Capstone project was a ‘roadmap’ for reform of the civil service system, which if implemented could make significant improvements in how the Civil Service Department functions in terms of cost and performance efficiencies.
“The highly positive reception the results of this project received from the new mayor and other city leaders speaks to the quality and relevance of the Capstone process,” Vedlitz said. “Our students are making real contributions to public policy and administration while also acquiring and honing skills they will use in their future careers,” he added.