Last month, Adam Keawe Manalo-Camp’s Community Voices “How to Reform Our Inefficient Bureaucracies” (Dec. 19) boldly brought to our attention the various types of inefficiencies present in government departments.

In the short term, administrators could innovate and improve their departments through incentives such as performance bonuses, but their insecure positions decided by election results make them unfit to sustain any positive changes.

The reality is administrators today are swamped with attending mandatory meetings that consume their entire workday on a daily basis.

To truly reform departments, administrators should authorize their employees to come up with solutions to internal problems. Because employees are the ones who carry out the functions of the department, they should get involved from the beginning and be assigned the responsibility to initiate and maintain positive changes.

As a former City and County of Honolulu employee, I sensed apathy among many long-term employees trapped in a fixed mindset, resisting suggestions intended to make things better. If these long-term employees are willing to be understanding and flexible, it is possible for them to help their departments enhance communication, reduce paper waste, and streamline processes. Unfortunately, not everyone chooses to embrace innovation unless required by management.

Once a majority of employees are on board with revamping workplace culture such as tearing down silos, they do not have to look far for inspiration. Through a yearlong effort, a small team from each City and County of Honolulu department took care of fundraising and assembling their trees for the annual Honolulu City Lights event.

These employees are often on the bottom rung and yet they are capable of seeing a project from start to finish.

Honolulu Hale King street view2. 1 may 2017
Honolulu Hale, home to the city administration, City Council and other offices. Can government employees help make local government more efficient? Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2017

Since each department is comprised of several divisions further broken down by branches, I propose mandating at least one employee representing each branch form a progress committee to discuss necessary improvements regularly and set a timeline for achieving them department-wide.

Twenty nine city departments and agencies within the executive branch means the creation of 29 progress committees because perfection does not exist. Employees identify internal problems, share corrective actions, and report back to their branch immediately while administrators ensure outstanding items receive follow up.

If employees are uncomfortable with challenging the status quo, they could refer to the performance audit reports online as a starting point.

What is the purpose of putting out these reports when recommendations are consistently ignored in favor of business as usual? Departments should focus on making corrections to outdated procedures currently resulting in delay and frustration.

To promote idea sharing, there is an opportunity to meet others from different departments through participation in the Emerging Leaders and Advanced Management Programs sponsored by the city’s Department of Human Resources. The courses within the programs help promote dialogue and teamwork among employees.

Not all departments function poorly, so it’s possible to learn from the effective ones what is working well to boost employee performance and achieve public satisfaction. One of them is the city’s Department of Emergency Management, which manages to keep an up-to-date website (note that website maintenance is generally the public’s first impression) and send alerts in a timely manner with detailed information prior to any potential disasters.

Hiro Toiya, the director of DEM, is a shining example of someone who takes his job seriously and deserves a bonus for riding his bicycle to work. Ultimately, the difference between a competent and inefficient department is whether both the administrators and a majority of employees are committed to addressing problems internally.

End Paper Dependence

In his Community Voice, Adam Keawe Manalo-Camp mentioned the amount of paperwork generated, which I personally witnessed from others’ perceived need for excessive ink documentation. With the exception of printing the final version of a document requiring signatures from administrators (e-signatures have been under debate recently), everything else drafted or scanned to a computer can easily be handled electronically.

For instance, environmental impact statements consist of a couple hundred pages reviewed by multiple agencies. Instead of printing thousands of pages so each agency receives a copy or two in the mailbox, the EISs could get uploaded to SharePoint where reviewers have convenient access.

There is no need to reinvent the wheel.

How about eliminating existing paper forms when they become available digitally? Ideally, it would be an ongoing task handed to office assistants who are also in charge of tracking sick or vacation leave online after employees receive approval from their supervisor via email.

In addition, it is futile to keep paper time sheets for those who work overtime or in part-time and temporary roles.

If departments are serious about paper waste prevention, a print quota should somehow get implemented plus adequate funding for hiring dedicated information technology personnel. Administrators may insist on printing agendas in advance for meetings, but it is an unnecessary action due to the existence of electronic devices and free Wi-Fi at most office buildings.

When administrators model innovative and environmental friendly behaviors, employees with a fixed mindset are more likely to follow suit. Using less paper is a choice to save trees and water as well as taxpayer money when storage spaces are no longer a concern.

I am merely suggesting a few ideas for consideration among inefficient departments. Administrators could start now by giving employees a chance to implement solutions department-wide and grow from the experience. It is important to address persistent problems that affect employee performance and public satisfaction on a daily basis rather than target a rare occurrence such as putting an end to gifts of aloha.

There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Until outdated processes and programs are dealt with internally to end project delays and wasteful printing, our government is not yet ready to tackle local issues facing Hawaii in the next decade and beyond.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a current photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

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