Ness outlines ITD overhaul

Fewer managers, less red tape and more boots on ground

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SANDPOINT — Idaho Transportation Department Director Brian Ness outlined a realignment of the agency Monday that aims to improve customer service, efficiency and accountability.

The realignment is also expected to save taxpayers at least $1.5 million over the next two years.

Ness announced the changes after a nine-month review of the department and its organizational structure, which he described as too densely layered with too much focus on bureaucratic process instead of measuring results and holding workers accountable.

“We can’t be using 1960s governmental organizational philosophies to run a 21st century operation,” Ness told lawmakers during a legislative tour stop in Sandpoint.

Ness said there are up to nine layers of management separating front-line workers and the director’s office. The review also revealed 62 instances where a supervisor managed only one employee and 11 assistant managers, resulting in duplications of effort between headquarters and district offices.

Ness’ assessment including interviewing the department’s 1,800 employees.

“By their own admission, they believe that they could do more. They believe that they can do more if their hands weren’t tied by some of the bureaucratic procedures that we have,” he said.

The realignment, which is expected to be ongoing for the next several years, will reduce the layers of supervision from nine to five and managers will supervise and average of 8-10 employees. Assistant manager positions will eventually be phased out.

“No one will lose their job or any pay,” Ness emphasized.

However, managers who have been in an office tending to spools of red tape, could be moved out into the field where they would inspect construction, clear snow or process driver’s licenses.

“It’s about putting people on the front lines,” said Ness, who added that more decisions need to be made at the district levels instead of in Boise.

State transportation funding comes almost entirely from registration fees and fuel taxes, the latter of which is being affected by the increasing presence of fuel-efficient vehicles and changes in driving habits.

Ness said the state is receiving roughly the same amount of revenue that it was bringing in 2000. Once inflation is factored in, it’s about the same amount of money ITD was getting in the early- to mid-1990s.

“You show me anybody — any private sector company or public sector entity — that is bringing in the same revenues that they were 15 or 20 years ago that are surviving. You probably can’t find any,” he said.

A gubernatorial task force is studying ways of propping up that funding. Gas tax and vehicle registration increases are being contemplated, as are vehicle-miles-traveled taxes and local option taxes.

The recommendations are due at the governor’s office by the end of the year.

After his presentation to legislators, Ness said he did not have a position on which funding alternatives he preferred.

“I’m just going let that play out,” he said.

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