Why does it take four people to sweep the street? That’s what I was thinking when I walked by a street sweeping operation, where three workers were manually sweeping leaves and debris into the street while one person drove the small sweeper. I don’t know the situation — maybe it involved a trainee or some other circumstance — but it made me think about government waste, or the perception of it.
I also read a recent city audit that found a (non-fleet) employee who had been teleworking since the beginning of the pandemic had simultaneously begun another job remotely, also full-time. He was collecting two paychecks and probably not doing full-time work for either employer.
The second example could happen at any employer, public or private. But if it were a private employer, it likely wouldn’t be audited, released to the public, and covered by various news outlets with headlines about government mismanagement and waste.
Public vs. Private Employ
There are lots of examples of unethical, unlawful, and inefficient actions, many reviewed by agency auditors. While auditing is important — after all, we should know how agencies spend taxpayer dollars — it also makes it hard to be a public-sector employee. Something we in the private sector can do might not be acceptable for someone in the public sector. Is having a celebratory lunch that takes longer than the usual hour okay? Can department funds be used to pay for it? Can a manager be permissive with certain perks, such as how a vehicle is used?
Do you know where the line is between what’s permissible and what’s not? One misstep and you’re suddenly a very public example of government wasteful spending.
When It’s Hard for Fleet Managers
This seems especially hard for those fleet managers facing recruiting and retention challenges. It’s not easy to raise wages, and it’s often not possible to provide perks. Second-tier technicians may not be able to diagnose problems or resolve them quickly, leading to poorly maintained vehicles and — you guessed it — an inefficient fleet operation and wasteful spending on mediocre employees.
Fleet managers must get creative when it comes to recruiting. I liked the City of Coppell, Texas, fleet’s method for writing compelling job descriptions, which led to more applicants (see page 30 for more information), but it shows that public fleet managers have to work harder to stand out from competing employers.
Combating Negative Impressions
What can fleet managers do to combat this perception? At public-facing events, educate the public on what fleet management is, explaining the variety of vehicles, the new fuels and technologies, the legislation, and budgeting issues may help them see how complex the job is. Job fairs, “touch-a-truck” events, and public works fairs provide an opportunity to speak to the public about the inner workings of local government. Be ready to present numbers and fact-based reasons to justify requests at city council meetings. Ensure your operation is audit ready. Think about perception when making decisions. Avoid negative press.
The goal is to help create a perception of fleet management as it is — a group of essential employees doing the best they can. While one event may not work, having a presence in the community and a good reputation within your organization can help provide a positive impression that will go a long way.