Lawmakers Consider Bill That Would Increase Training, Resources For 'Distressed' PA Municipalities

Mar 30, 2015

Clairton is one of five Allegheny County municipalities currently in Act 47 "distressed" status.
Credit Flickr user Joseph A

There are currently 19 cities and boroughs in Pennsylvania designated as “distressed” municipalities under Act 47, including Pittsburgh, Braddock, Rankin, Duquesne and Clairton in Allegheny County.

A State House bill meant to help those municipalities identify ways to make their operations more efficient may end up not doing that at all.

As written, House Bill 11 would not only train state employees in lean government practices, but also would require the Governor's Office of Transformation, Innovation, Management and Efficiency to provide that training to “distressed” municipalities as well.

“The phrase ‘do more with less’ is quite possibly the most popular one in government and has been since the start of the recession,” said Rep. Mike Schlossberg, a Democrat from Lehigh County and co-sponsor of the bill. “While there’s obviously validity to that, at the state level we have to give local governments the ability to actually do more with less.”

Prior to his service in state government, Schlossberg sat on the Allentown City Council, an experience he said motivated him to introduce the legislation which would create the Lean Government Practices Program.

“I saw exactly the pressures that our managers were under: shrinking staff, shrinking resources, but increasing demands,” Schlossberg said. “If we give them the tools that they need to be successful, we can expect more out of them, but otherwise asking them to do more and not telling them how to do it is a complete waste of time and money.”

Schlossberg struggled to give specific examples but said the program would provide access to a variety of different training models depending on each municipality’s needs.

However, co-sponsor Rep. Seth Grove, a Republican from York County, said he’ll propose an amendment that would take help for municipalities out of the bill altogether.

“Generally what we’ve seen in other states is they start lean government practices within the state government and then allow local governments to tap into that,” Grove said. “Since we don’t have a formal process at the state government as of yet, working with stakeholder groups we agreed to pull that out for a later date.”

According to the text of the bill, the state of Pennsylvania has saved nearly $700 million since 2011 by adopting “lean government practices.”

Grove said the state government needs to codify those practices first before trying to assist municipalities with implementing them. And he said the best place to start is with new state government employees.

“What lean government tries to do is break down that old model so you have constant improvement, so the new hires get trained in ways of how do we do this better, more efficient … more effective,” Grove said.

One example both lawmakers gave was the Lean Six Sigma program, which helps municipalities, businesses, and other groups identify ways to make their processes more efficient. The city of Pittsburgh is currently piloting the program, with a few select projects from various departments. The Heinz Endowments is footing the $50,000 bill for the program, which looks at every step in a process and identifies ways to make the process more efficient.

The bill is up for discussion in the House Urban Affairs committee Tuesday morning.

Editor's note: This report has been updated to include information from Rep. Seth Grove.