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Efficiency Studies Find Weakness in San Diego Departments

The common thread through the consultant's reports was that the city's core financial and human resources technology has been under-utilized, and employees have not gotten enough training on the system.

Photo Credit: Michelle Mowad
Photo Credit: Michelle Mowad

A series of efficiency studies of some city operations found weak implementation of the city's $50 million information technology upgrade even though it went into service several years ago, San Diego's independent budget analyst said in a report released Friday.

Chicago-based Huron Consulting Group, which has an office in San Diego, looked at city departments that handle purchasing and contracting, fleet maintenance and real estate assets. In a fourth report, the consultant also provided suggestions on the development of an open data policy.

The common thread through the consultant's reports was that the city's core financial and human resources technology has been under-utilized, and employees have not gotten enough training on the system, according to the IBA. The reports are due to be delivered to the City Council on Tuesday.

The city began work on the new system, informally known as SAP, as far back as 2007 and began implementing it a few years ago, according to the IBA. The city has about 17 employees designated to support users in various departments.

"Given the major investment the city has made in implementing SAP technology, it is important to fully prioritize and utilize its functionality where appropriate and cost-effective, and where opportunities exist for improving process efficiencies throughout the city," the IBA report says. "This is what makes the Huron findings relative to SAP potentially significant."

The consultant's findings on the Real Estate's Assets Department will be presented to the City Council around two weeks after the division's director, James Barwick, was relieved by Mayor Kevin Faulconer.

Huron says it interviewed people who think there are so many hands involved in city property issues that it's possible that the Real Estate Assets Department "may not be aware of the composition of the city's entire real estate portfolio."

The department manages city-owned properties like Qualcomm Stadium and Petco Park, fire stations and libraries, and parks and open space. Those individual departments are involved in maintenance and other activities involving the properties, and some transactions have been made with limited or no knowledge by Real Estate Assets, according to Huron.

The department -- which also handles leases of municipal properties to outside organizations, and signs rental agreements for city offices in privately owned buildings -- is in need of a clear vision and strategy, the consultants say.

"It appears the READ is not operating in a structured manner with a clear vision and strategy to guide it on a day-to-day basis," the consultants wrote.

They also found through interviews that the department does not place enough emphasis on service to clients, and customers don't have much faith in the data they receive. Collaboration and coordination with other city departments is limited, the report says.

The consultants added that interviewees lauded the department's leaders for an open-door policy and willingness to step in and solve problems.

Meanwhile, a report on Fleet Services says the department does not accurately track labor time and costs, does not use key metrics to manage operations, and is not meeting availability requirements for the city's vehicles -- like fire trucks and refuse haulers.

The department has been ground zero for the past year in the debate over a stalled city program to put certain municipal functions out for competitive bidding.

A group of employees submitted the winning fleet maintenance bid, but ex- Mayor Bob Filner and other opponents of the "managed competition" program contended the department has been unable to keep up with its workload.

Filner suspended managed competition as a result. Faulconer won election in February in part on a platform of resuming the program.

The Huron report says Fleet Services has enough facilities to manage the city's fleet and enough employees to conduct efficient operations, but that a "long lead time" between being awarded the competitive bidding contract and being able to implement its new organizational structure has "compounded the problems."

A third report found that purchasing and contracting lacks a comprehensive vision and strategy after a prolonged period of rapid turnover in leadership. The department also doesn't have a standardized set of processes and procedures, frustrating the staff and customer departments, and redundant bureaucracies complicate and lengthen the purchasing process.

City executives in charge of fleet services and purchasing and contracting either agreed with Huron's recommendations or said such reforms are already being implemented. Real Estate Assets plans to review the report when a new director is hired.

—City News Service

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