Schapiro: At the Virginia Capitol, Youngkin takes advantage of the disturbances | Government and politics

JEFF E. SCHAPIRO Richmond Times-Dispatch

As a financial magician, Glenn Youngkin knows how to turn a problem into a profit.

In his previous incarnation – co-CEO of investment giant Carlyle Group – Youngkin helped turn struggling coffee and confectionery chain Dunkin’ Donuts into a huge moneymaker. Bought for $2.4 billion in 2005 by Carlyle and two other private equity firms, what is now known as Dunkin’ went public in 2011, having significantly expanded its footprint and staff. Once the loans were repaid, the stock sales produced a triple windfall of $1.8 billion, split evenly between the three companies.

As a Republican governor, Youngkin attempts to manage the state’s workforce with the same acumen that made him very wealthy.

What makes you wonder: Why is Youngkin ordering around 55,000 government workers to return to their offices across the state by July 5, abandoning COVID-19 protocols put in place by his predecessor Democrat, Ralph Northam, who allowed many of them to work remotely, usually from home?

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Wouldn’t this be a great opportunity to take fuller advantage of the disruption attributed to the coronavirus?

That task would likely fall to the administration’s self-styled director of transformation, Eric Moeller. He is a former partner at the management consultancy McKinsey, where Youngkin worked before Carlyle and where the best and the brightest can earn millions of dollars by recommending cost savings and efficiencies to companies that inflate salaries. executives and eliminate the jobs of line workers.

The pandemic has forced Virginia to rethink service delivery, likely accelerating their digitization — a task that could be slowed by the back-to-office order and creates greater reliance on an information agency. state technology for which Youngkin has yet to find a permanent direction. Northam’s proposed investment in broadband, backed by Youngkin, could mean continued construction, especially in rural Virginia, funded by $2 billion in federal coronavirus relief funds.

Greater use of virtual space – a policy the General Assembly first adopted in 2001 with the goal of around 2 in 10 workers telecommuting – means reduced demand for real space . If agencies, primarily their back offices, are, in fact, relocated to employee homes, office buildings in downtown Richmond, where the state manages 6.5 million square feet and pays $63 million dollars a year in rent, could be rented or sold, repurposed or redeveloped.

In addition to reducing its real estate footprint, the state could reduce its vehicle fleet by 4,000 vehicles. And with fewer workers commuting, saving them gas and parking costs, state-owned garages that hold about 7,000 cars could make way for new development.

Exceptions to continue telecommuting two or three days a week require the approval of, respectively, the Cabinet secretary who oversees the employee’s agency or Youngkin’s chief of staff, who, in effect, is the deputy governor. . Going up the chain of command with a request to stay in the digital workspace can, for some employees, feel like running the gauntlet.

In other words, it’s a form of punishment – more trouble than it’s worth. Workers who feel this way, after seeing all these signs of help that point to a tight labor market, might leave the public sector for the private sector. And that would probably be OK with Youngkin. So would the large-scale departures, perhaps fueled by a perception within the bureaucracy that Youngkin — for political reasons — is bent on micromanaging the state’s nonpolitical workers.

Forget the fact that the corporate sector, not just to keep its best employees, is trying to find a balance between virtual and in-person work. There is something to be said for the creative tension of a face-to-face encounter. And there are activities that simply require real contact between employees. Among them: determining how some engage others.

Some government departments only need real people in real time: law enforcement, public health, transportation, and parts of the social safety net. This includes the Virginia Employment Commission, claimed by Youngkin as an early success story, having been restored after its near collapse under the weight of the wave of unemployment attributed to COVID-19.

So perhaps the Youngkin Directive, coupled with an apparent freeze on agency discretionary spending of more than $100,000 announced in a recent memo from the Secretary of Finance, is a cynical attempt to lay off employees, allowing taxpayers for whom they work to save millions of dollars in wages, health insurance coverage and pension contributions? For state employees, jumping now is better to be pushed back later, when layoffs might be the rule.

An exodus of public employees — voluntary or forced — could cost the Virginia government a defining characteristic: institutional knowledge. That there are people, most of whom are professionals and not politicians, who know how things work means things work better. To skeptics, some of whom are professional politicians, these people are seen as little more than faceless, process-bound bureaucrats whose job it is to do service work.

Next year, one in four state employees – 25% – will be eligible for retirement, according to the General Assembly’s investigative arm, the Joint Audit and Legislative Review Commission. The pools of potential retirees are probably larger in some agencies. Many employees about to leave are white collar: 41% are general managers, 38% are financial directors and 28% are engineers and architects.

And the departures will upend one of the recent features of the state workforce: greater diversity. The Economic Policy Institute, a center-left think tank, notes that 58% of Virginia government employees are women, 1 in 5 are black, and 1 in 10 are Hispanic or Asian.

These are challenges that do not lend themselves to the quick fixes so often preferred by the political class.

Fingers crossed Youngkin and his advisers are talking about it. Maybe over coffee and Dunkin’ Donuts?

Contact Jeff E. Schapiro at (804) 649-6814 or jschapiro@timesdispatch.com. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter, @RTDSchapiro. Listen to his analysis at 7:45 a.m. and 5:45 p.m. Friday on Radio IQ, 89.7 FM in Richmond and 89.1 FM in Roanoke, and in Norfolk on WHRV, 89.5 FM.

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