The one thing that continually impresses me about public sector fleet management is the caliber of its fleet managers. I consider myself lucky to know many of these fleet managers and am honored to call many of them my friends. One such fleet manager is John McCorkhill. Currently, John is the fleet manager for the City of Lynchburg, Va., but when I first met John, almost 20 years ago, he was the fleet manager for the City of Indianapolis. The two of us got to know one another as members of the NAFA Board of Governors. John has both the expertise and the “years in the saddle” that allows him to have a masterful insight into the state of public sector fleet management. Nowadays, the two of us mostly communicate via e-mail, although we continue to see one another at various fleet meetings during the course of a year. In one of our recent e-mail exchanges, John made a very interesting observation, which was the inspiration of this editorial.
“Hard times like we now face in city government are a blessing in disguise. I’ve been part of a municipal fleet team for almost 30 years now in two different cities and have never seen government react as well as our private-sector counterparts when times are hard,” John wrote. “I see the difficult times we now face as an opportunity for each municipal fleet manager to make culture changes within his or her organization. I’m not only an employee of the city in which I live, but a taxpayer as well and, when I make things better for my employer, I make things better for myself as a taxpayer as well. Thank God for hard times.”
When I read this, it gave me pause to reflect. Hard times do indeed present the opportunity (or necessity) to make needed changes in fleet management that would otherwise have never occurred during good times. Too often, change is difficult to implement in the government sector as the status quo reigns supreme. However, in an environment of dwindling resources and shrinking budgets, the “status quo model” no longer works. Not only should we run our operations as a business, but we should also run it from the perspective of being a taxpayer.
Business as Usual?
The key word sometimes forgotten in fleet management is the word “management.” As we all know, senior management is sometimes (often?) short-sighted and only focuses on the dollar amount.
In these turbulent times, many fleet managers are under-appreciated by user groups, senior management, and elected officials. Sometimes, the fleet managers are at fault because they do a poor job of promoting themselves and their department to management.
Often, from the perspective of the local media, fleet is in the shadow of other services, such as police, fire, snow removal, street sweeping, etc. But, when money is scarce and budgets are tight or need to be cut, fleet managers quickly find themselves on the radar screen of elected officials, the local news media, and taxpayer watchdog groups. Fleet managers must become better at “making the case” to policy makers.
Hopefully, tax revenues will trend upward in the next 18 months, but, even if they do, most fleet managers agree that the profession will never go back to “business as usual,” at least not in the near term. This prolonged downturn (or Great Recession as it will most likely be known in future history books) has put cost cutting, by necessity, in its rightful place at the top of the fleet priority list. If fleet management, as a whole, can squeeze waste and inefficiencies out of operations, the profession will be the better for it in the long run. I am confident in the ability of fleet managers to navigate through these treacherous fiscal shoals. However, my fear, as those of many others in the business, is that if the economy takes several more years to rebound, we may run out of “fat” to cut and begin cutting into the bone of essential services.
Another great fleet manager who offers a similar perspective to thriving during these turbulent times is Kelly Reagan, fleet administrator for the City of Columbus, Ohio. Kelly offers a unique perspective of having both private and public sector fleet experience. Below is an interesting observation made by Kelly in a recent e-mail exchange.
“We have to be smarter today than we were yesterday. We must demonstrate to the administration that we are fully competent in our area of expertise, therefore our voice must be heard and policy makers should shape future policy toward a new way of doing business at the public level,” Kelly wrote. “We must continue to think outside the box and demonstrate that our ideas have merit and can deliver real results for the taxpayers — the result is future savings in both parts and supplier services. In doing so we will preserve the budgets for training for our own ‘wrenches’ on the floor and preserve the labor pool that we have worked so hard to develop over the years.”
Proactive, Not Reactive
In today’s fiscal reality, the quest for continuous improvement and cost savings is a never-ending process to improve core services and outsource non-competitive services to the private sector. I know this phrase has become a cliché, but fleet managers really must manage their fleets as a business. They need to transition from reactive to proactive fleet management. Fleet managers must investigate and implement new methods and procedures to make their fleet operations as efficient as possible.
In a weak tax environment, fleet managers can save substantial taxpayer dollars by implementing cost-effective fleet policy, maximizing fleet utilization, rightsizing the fleet, and optimizing user department productivity, all while reducing operating expenses.
Let me know what you think.
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