A committee in the Iowa Senate is scheduled to debate a government reorganization bill this week that some supporters hope will reduce the number of “middle managers” in state government. Reducing the number of supervisors is a key priority for AFSCME , the union which represents the largest share of state workers.
Union leaders say there are too many managers and not enough front-line employees or “worker bees” in state government. Some state agencies are raising objections to new limits on the number of supervisors, however. Elizabeth Baird of the Iowa Department of Transportation says most D.O.T. supervisors perform technical functions, too, so those jobs just can’t be eliminated.
“When supervisors end up supervising more people, communication goes the byway and that communication is really the lubrication that keeps things functioning,” she says. “So we’re concerned by expanding the ratio too large you lose the good management communication skills.” But Senator Staci Appel, a Democrat from Ackworth, doubts the public will have much sympathy for state agency managers who complain about reducing the number of supervisors.
“Our kindergarten teachers are asked to take care of 25 five year olds,” she says. “I think us grownups can supervise 20 people and that saves taxpayer dollars and I think that’s what (taxpayers are) expecting us to do.” The proposal to be considered in the Senate State Government Committee this week would restrict state agencies to having one supervisor for every 14 employees for the next budgeting year. By the year 2016, the ratio would be one supervisor for every 20 workers in an agency.
Keith Saunders, a lobbyist for the University of Iowa, says that may not be possible for the university. “Almost everyone on campus has some type of supervisory function somewhere,” Saunders says. “We also have many small federal grants or research grants that you may have a principle investigator who has a couple lab assistants with them. We’re concerned that this might jeopardize some of our federal research.”
Business leaders use the phrase “span of control” to describe the number of subordinates a supervisor must manage. At the beginning of this decade, an analysis of the executive branch of state government found there was about one manager for every seven employees.
An Iowa Department of Management estimate from last February found the “span of control” to be about one supervisor for every 11 employees in the executive branch. However, that estimate did not include the workforce at the “Regents” institutions which are the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa.