N.C. Department of Transportation criticized

Surveys and interviews deem department inefficient, unfocused and inflexible

News The News & Observer November 01, 2007
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A consultant’s report released Oct. 31 shows that people believe the N.C. Department of Transportation is inefficient, unfocused and inflexible.

The report draws from nearly 9,000 anonymous employee surveys and interviews with dozens of state, business and local officials.

Employees said the department is wastes money and time because managers frequently change priorities. They said projects meander for years, low-level workers are too afraid to suggest new ideas and better leadership would significantly speed up major projects.

"Imagine two guys in a garage full of car parts, with a black curtain that splits the garage in half," said one engineer in the Preconstruction section of the highway division, which handles planning and design, among other functions. "These guys have to build a car by passing notes to each other from either side. That's Preconstruction."

After the report was released, State Transportation Secretary Lyndo Tippett said that the report provides an honest look at the department, which will help improve it.

"You don't know how you look until you get your picture took," Tippett said.

The department, which has a $3.8 billion budget, hired international management consultant McKinsey & Co. to evaluate the agency. The department agreed to pay McKinsey $1.1 million for an evaluation and an additional $2.5 million for assistance with implementing changes. The review came as the department was losing credibility with state legislators, who control funding for the agency.

The report recommends alterations in the way the department's managers think, plan and act. It suggests steps to recruit and keep top workers, and it calls for the department to be more transparent and to finish projects faster and more cheaply.

The report also recommends the department work with the legislature to tie new funding to meeting its goals.

The consultants did highlight some benefits of the organization. Employees are proud to serve and tend to respect their direct supervisors. The department has support from both internal and external leaders to change, according to the report.

Tippett said the consultant has already helped the department find ways to be more efficient that could save $50 million.

"Our motive from the outset was to take a good organization, which DOT is, in my opinion, and make it better," he said. "I think what we've done with hiring this consultant is something unheard of in state government."

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