Fifty Thousand Employees: An Under-utilized Resource in City Government

The current city budget authorizes 39 departments to maintain a combined workforce of 36,864 employees. And if the 14,453 employees in three independent departments are counted, the total number of authorized positions in City Service would provide for a workforce of 51,347 employees. But it should be noted that the City’s actual workforce is always smaller than the number of authorized positions. Thus, the City’s actual workforce is generally estimated to be around 50,000 employees.
Now, three things should be said about those 50,000 employees. First, they are the City’s most valuable resource. Without them, Los Angeles would have no police protection, no fire protection, no water or power and no refuse collection, etc. Those, and many other vital services, are provided by city employees.  Thus, thoughtful, fair-minded Angelenos agree that “employees are the City’s most valuable resource.”
It must also be recognized that employees are the City’s most expensive resource. Sixty percent of the current city budget, 4.2 billion dollars, goes to support the 36,864 employees authorized for the thirty-nine budgetary departments. Any way you look at it, $4.2 billion is a lot of money! Yet, it seems to be in line with what other large organizations spend for salaries, benefits, pensions and retirement.
A third point to be made about the City’s 50,000 employees is that, like their counterparts in many American organizations, they are an under-utilized resource. Across the country, employers (public and private) waste the potential their workers bring to the job. That’s what authorities in Human Resource Management, and employees themselves, have been saying for the past thirty-five years! But in Los Angeles, City Hall hasn’t been paying attention!
Consider, for example, a comment by Claire E. Vough. “Nobody in this world works at top capacity. I saw a survey once that said the average person works at about thirty percent capacity… The point is everyone has a great deal of untapped reserve capacity” (Tapping the Human Resource, 1975).
Or consider John W. Gardner’s reaffirmation. “The best kept secret in America today is that people would rather work hard for something they believe in than live a life of aimless diversion” (Excellence, revised version, 1984).
A Weekend Business Report, aired December 30, 1990 by Radio KFWB, would seem to support Gardner’s point. “According to a new study, workers in the Country’s manufacturing sector blame management for their company’s inadequate productivity. The study, which polled twenty-two thousand workers at Fortune 500 companies, found that U.S. Manufacturing workers feel that they’re under-utilized… Sixty-seven percent of all the employees felt that their work is not assessed or redesigned regularly enough to keep them as productive as they could be.”
Employees are always going to be the City’s most valuable resource. And they’ll probably continue to be the City’s most expensive resource. But there’s no reason to think employees must always be the City’s most under-utilized resource! There are, after all, ways to correct under-utilization!
Clearly, city officials— elected and appointed— have a duty to re-examine the traditional view of Public Service. It’s not just a career! It’s an opportunity to work hard at something one believes in! When our leaders demonstrate that belief in their day-to-day conduct, when they actually lead by example, they will have taken the required first step in correcting the City’s under-utilization problem!