State looks at worker-to-manager ratio in government

SALEM — Oregon lawmakers are considering a bill that seeks to trim the ranks of management in state government.

The measure is a response to a report by a public employee union that said some agencies are bloated with supervisors as well as managers who do not oversee employees. The bipartisan bill was scheduled for a committee work session Thursday, but it was delayed until Tuesday so staff could estimate its impact on the budget.

The bill, HB2020, would direct legislative budget writers to set an employee-to-manager ratio of 11-to-1 when possible in agencies with at least 100 employees.

The Service Employees International Union said the average employee-to-manager ratio in the largest state agencies — those with at least 1,000 employees — is 6.1-to-1. The ratio is 4.6-to-1 in smaller agencies, the union reported.

"Before we're making drastic cuts to front-line services that Oregonians rely on, we should be looking at how we can make government more efficient," said Melissa Unger, an SEIU political organizer. "A lot of agencies, not all of them, have some staff-management issues where their ratios are lower than you'd want them to be."

The bill sets 11-1 as a goal for budget writers to work toward and does not specify a deadline to reach it. Agencies can get around the ratio by making a case that their unique circumstances require more flexibility.

"The intent of this bill is not to do one-size-fits-all," said Rep. Peter Buckley, an Ashland Democrat who is a chief sponsor.

Buckley said he views the bill as a management tool to require state agencies to re-evaluate their needs every two years and adjust their staffing accordingly.

"Every organization has to right-size," he said.

Michael Jordon, director of the Department of Administrative Services, said in testimony submitted to a House committee that the management ratio "needs to be scrutinized" but there are often legitimate reasons for low management-to-staff ratios. Small offices in rural areas may have only a few employees, he said, and legislators have chosen to boost oversight of child-protective services.

Texas currently has a similar 11-1 ratio for managers to staff.

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