The Metropolitan Transportation Authority released a draft of its “transformation plan” Friday. On surface, the report isn’t transformative. An eighth-grade business class could have put it together. But it helps Gov. Andrew Cuomo further conquer the MTA to avoid dealing with the issues an independent MTA leader would force him to confront.
The report, prepared as part of this year’s state budget by consultants at AlixPartners, looks like standard-fare corporate reorganization. There’s nothing objectionable about suggesting an “MTA Communications” department led by “communications specialists,” having “the right medium for the right message” and all such consultantspeak when it comes office tasks.
And the MTA likely can use some paring back, as the report suggests. Its headquarters division employs 3,096 people, up from 1,623 in 2012, part of a total increase in workers of 9,673, to 75,162.
But the MTA didn’t need a $4 million consulting contract to tell it that. Even before this report came out, it was planning 1,300 job cuts as it confronts a half-a-billion-dollar deficit. The MTA has been talking about “consolidation” for nearly a decade.
No, the real plan here is to further obscure the MTA bureaucracy — on purpose.
First, Alix suggests creating a “new central group” to handle all construction projects. It named no leader for this mysterious group.
A second new group — a new “central engineering function” — will report to a new “chief engineering officer” to “set standards, ensure quality and sustainability of infrastructure.” This person will apparently be the product of immaculate conception; the report doesn’t suggest whom this person should report to. And engineering is a key part of overseeing construction projects — so it’s not clear why the MTA needs two new groups.
The report also suggests a new chief operating officer. Alix, although it’s supposed to be the expert here, punts on the chain of command. It says only that the new COO should “report to the CEO and if the board chooses, to the board,” just as with a new “chief transformation officer,” who will report to the board.
Remember, the MTA already has a 16-year-old “capital construction company” — with its own chief officer — that is supposed to build all big projects. Alix doesn’t propose to abolish the existing division. On the contrary, it says that it “has demonstrated recent progress.”
Three construction divisions instead of one is more division than transformation.
This looks like a mess — but this is what Cuomo wants. The MTA is supposed to be led by one person; the ability to command the public’s and the business world’s attention in this role theoretically gives that person leverage on pushing back against the governor on politically unpalatable but necessary measures, like cutting labor costs.
But with a new transformation officer and a new chief operating officer reporting directly to a board controlled by Cuomo, and with responsibility for construction diffused in a purposely confusing manner, no one person is the leader here. Cuomo knows that one person can command some power; four cannot.
Cuomo can perhaps make this insane system work for him. But when he’s gone, he’s leaving behind a mess of an MTA bureaucracy, with the structure of a functional public authority — based on a clear leader who makes decisions in its interest — in tatters.
Meanwhile, what about the MTA’s real problems? The report only neutrally glances at union labor. It notes that the MTA is worried that it will sacrifice the progress it’s made over two years in cleaning drains, pipes and stations if it can’t change work rules in labor agreements.
The MTA was only able to use independent contractors to do some of this cleaning work under the two-year-old “subway action plan” because it did a special deal with the transit union. Renewing or expanding such deals will be expensive.
But Alix only nods at labor changes without making recommendations. All the MTA’s major contracts are expired. An aggressive report would have called for the MTA and its unions to jointly agree to simply start over, building brand-new contracts from scratch rather than modifying decades-old rules and fighting over every word. Then, both sides could agree to share the cost savings achieved by new deals.
Cuomo is still avoiding the inevitable union reckoning — partly by making sure there’s no one to force his hand.
This piece originally appeared at the New York Post
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