History lesson: State government entrenched in self-preservation

Art Chance
Art Chance


Part I: This was part of an introduction to a piece I helped author during the Frank Murkowski for Governor campaign in 2002:

  • A Republican governor cannot staff the State government with loyal, qualified appointees.
  • The Governor’s Office of Management does not manage and its budget functions largely duplicate those that are or could be performed at a lower level.
  • The current structure is ossified and intensely hierarchical.
  • Each department is stove-piped.
  • Most State employees have no sense of a corporate culture or values beyond bureaucratic self-preservation.
  • The integrity of the State’s human resources and financial management systems has been severely compromised.
  • There is no incentive to excel.
  • Employees generally know more about their work than their politically appointed managers.
  • The State’s statutory and contract pay schemes are inadequate to attract quality managers.
  • Only the first of these assumptions is a good thing.

* * *


Only the last sentence is somewhat less true than it was fifteen years ago when this was written.

The State’s managerial pay has improved but is still barely competitive in those agencies that adhere to and properly apply the State’s statutory pay plan.

We went on to set out a plan to reorganize State government to essentially widen and flatten the organizational charts and modernize and simplify lines of authority, thereby reducing the number of appointees with that authority.

We proposed to start the reorganization in the State’s then badly deficient and corrupted human resources and labor relations function and its grossly inefficient and excessively expensive information technology (IT) functions.

Gov. Murkowski and Chief of Staff Jim Clark approved the plan and ordered it to proceed.

The director of personnel and I (by then I was director of labor relations) worked with trusted subordinates, fleshed out the plan and an implementation scheme, and did it all, in essence, by dark of night.

We called the people who would be most affected into a meeting in the governor’s conference room, told them what their world was going to look like tomorrow, and gave them only the choice of whether or not to be in that world.

The opposition was swift and intense, but with fits and starts it was fairly quickly implemented and on the whole successful. That success was irrelevant to those who had lost power and position in the reorganization and they nipped and back-bit at every turn.

My co-conspirator and I had enough personal horsepower to fend off the attacks, but she retired a couple of years in and the attacks on the Personnel side intensified and became more effective. I retired in mid-2006, and there was nobody left who could effectively resist the congenital bureaucrats who wanted their power back, and sadly, nobody who really wanted to have the fight.

The return to the bad old days began, and from the outside looking in, it now appears worse than ever and for the same reason: Democrats are in charge.

On the IT side, the administration foolishly put the Administrative Services directors in charge of carrying out the reorganization and, as might be expected since it was their territory being diminished, the fought it tooth and nail. Of course the fight was always, in business buzzword terms, about “stakeholders” and “consensus” and “buy-in” and all that biz school BS calculated to make sure nothing happens.

At the end of the administration if there was any change at all in the mess that was in IT:  It was worse organized and less efficient than ever, but all the right people still had their power.

All the things we were trying to fix then exist today in every department of the executive branch; we just happened to have a desire to fundamentally change those two functions and had the power to at least initiate it. But we didn’t stay with the government long enough to finish it and couldn’t stop the bureaucrats from sabotaging the IT effort.

In retrospect, if we’d remained with the government the same forces that undid it in Palin/Parnell would have likely undone it in spite of us, and Palin, especially, wouldn’t have minded letting them do it over our dead bodies. Figuratively, of course.

The central organizational culture of State government is totally self-interested and deeply corrupted; there is absolutely no public service value proposition in the government.

The bureaucrats serve their self-interest. Political level management –the appointees — serve the administration and the specific constituencies important to the governor;. The general welfare of the people and the state isn’t even a consideration for most.

Most of this is a product of how the government is organized, and that is something a Republican governor with a bit of courage and some people who understand the government can do something about.

In the next pieces I’ll discuss how the State’s WWII era organizational structure guarantees that the State will be stove-piped, self-interested, and unresponsive and what can be done about it.

The State’s structure harks back to the days of manual typewriters and five-sheet carbon paper when all communication was by first class mail and most of Alaska wasn’t even accessible by telephone. The people in power got that power by knowing how to work that system and they know that any change in that system will reduce or eliminate their power and perhaps their position. Therefore, they will fight to the death, and anyone who wants to change that system, cut the operating budget, and make the State responsive to the people, rather than the lobbyists, has to be prepared to bring about some first class career funerals. I’ll show you how.

Art Chance is a retired Director of Labor Relations for the State of Alaska, formerly of Juneau and now living in Anchorage. He is the author of the book, “Red on Blue, Establishing a Republican Governance,” available at Amazon. He only writes for Must Read Alaska when he’s banned from posting on Facebook. Chance coined the phrase “hermaphrodite Administration” to describe a governor who is simultaneously a Republican and a Democrat. This was a grave insult to hermaphrodites, but he has not apologized.


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