IT'S NOT exactly surprising to discover that a lot of the managers in the D.C. government whose agencies and operations have been characterized by the Rivlin Commission as overstaffed don't agree. Our favorite response, cited in the paper Sunday, came from an assistant director of personnel in charge of Service Personnel Office No. 1, a man who, with the assistance of a deputy assistant director of personnel, oversees three division chiefs. The Rivlin report suggests that the deputy job isn't necessary. The assistant director responds that no one from the Rivlin Commission ever asked him about Servicing Personnel Office No. 1, and if they had, he would have explained that without his deputy, "it would be miserable. My stress level would go up a lot of notches. It's definitely a tremendous role in this operation."
You don't have to accept every recommendation in the Rivlin report as sacred doctrine to be more than a little leery of such a reaction. It is generally safe to assume that in private business as well as in public bureaucracy, everyone in every job feels that he or she is overworked and underappreciated -- that's the way the world works and the way people are. The law of averages tells you that some of them must be right. But the city's personnel office struck us as a singularly bad venue from which to protest that the charges of D.C. government bloat are inaccurate, insensitive and/or unfair. How stretched and stressed could the city's personnel office be if it decided, as it did, to dispatch 30 employees and consultants to the Virgin Islands in 1987-88 on a consulting mission of some peculiar kind for the Virgin Islands government. Forget how much time this mission seems to have spent running up hotel bills and charging personal expenses. Ask yourself whether an agency that could evidently spare that many people for a prolonged period of time is using its own personnel efficiently, and whether it can, with a straight face, say it is not overstaffed.
It is true that any inventory of jobs on the charts is not always an accurate measure of how efficient the employees may be or even of what exactly they may be doing. But in the report there are countless citations of crowded flow charts that scream for some slenderizing. If, for example, the city does need an official bicycle coordinator to promote bike use, does he need two full-time assistants?
No one is wedded to every finding of the commission, but every finding should be examined to determine precisely who does what how much of the time that nobody else possibly could do -- or that somebody else is doing already. There may even be a few more forthright managers like Ben Johnson, acting chief of the Department of Public and Assisted Housing, who has removed two of his three special assistants and gotten rid of his driver. What's more, Mr. Johnson notes in an interview with Post staff writer Steve Twomey that "this office hasn't missed a beat since they moved out. I did it, because I know I didn't need them. ... With where we are and the deficit we're facing, we can ill-afford to continue in the path that we were on."
That could be the theme for every office from now on.