Oversight Panel's Top Gun No Stranger To Trouble-shooting

Former Bendix Executive To Help Streamline Government

February 02, 1992|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff writer

When the Bendix Corp. needed to turn a couple of subsidiaries aroundin 1967 and early 1971, Murray Weingarten was the person they calledon.

When County Executive Charles I. Ecker needed someone to perform a similar role in 1992 for the county's deficit-ridden government, he, too, called on Weingarten.

As chairman of a newly appointed Administrative Oversight Commission, Weingarten and his 10-member commission will begin tomorrow to "comprehensively examine the duties, routines and functions of each Howard County department, agency and office."

The commission's goal is to discover and recommend ways the county can function more "efficiently and effectively."

At first glance, the task seems little different from the one Ecker gave to his 108-member transition team following the November 1990 election 15 months ago.

But the transition team's exploration was "a hurry-up thing that created a lot of anxiety among employees, which is natural because they were concerned about losing their jobs," Ecker says. "The commission has a different purpose. Hopefully, there's less anxiety this time. This is not a witchhunt. Nobody's out to get somebody's job."

Judging from the reaction of department heads, Ecker is right about less anxiety.

"I've just finished the budget and my hearing is still a couple of weeks away, so I haven't thought too much about it yet," says public works director James M. Irvin. Apart from the school system, Irvin manages the largest branch of county government.

"The transition team wanteda quick assessment. The commission, as I understand it, is looking at long-term options," Irvin says. "They want more of a historical perspective."

Irvin says he thinks getting material together will be easier this time, because it will be a matter of updating and adding a historical perspective to the work given to the transition team.

Weingarten says he plans to base the commission's inquiries on "whatI would need to know if I were sitting in the executive's chair -- the pros and cons for making a decision."

Weingarten retired in August 1989 after 40 years with the Bendix Corp. -- the last 16 as president and chief executive officer of Bendix Field Engineering Corp.

But put him in a lineup with 10 people and he would be the last selected as the prototype high-powered executive.

Affable, easy-going,quick with a quip or a story, that's "Murray." A man who lets the phone ring rather than interrupt his conversation with you. A guy who makes you feel like an old friend after 10 minutes of conversation.

Dynamic, demanding, no-nonsense, that's "Mr. Weingarten." A boss whosays that if he pays his employees too little, he won't get skilled people. And if he pays too much, he won't be competitive. An executive in a monogrammed shirt and power tie who insists that losers becomewinners.

With the exception of the county administrator's office,which will have all day tomorrow to make its presentation, Weingarten plans to give department heads two hours to share information "any way they like."

After that comes his hour of "fun" -- "asking rather than answering questions for the first time in my life." The questions won't be multiple choice.

"What is your department's charter?How do you measure efficiency and effectiveness? How do you establish goals? How do you measure quality and productivity? What priorities, what mandate do you have? Where are the bottlenecks? What things doyou do that negatively affect people?"

Department heads who tell the commission they do what they do because it's county policy, or because their boss wants it that way, had better beware. That's the quickest way possible to have affable Murray become demanding Mr. Weingarten.

"You want people who think differently, not people who stroke you," Weingarten says. "If you speak enough and listen enough, maybe one of us will come out of this room a little smarter."

It was that kind of listening and speaking that led Bendix Corp. to honor Weingarten as "Executive of the Year" two years in succession and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to award him its Distinguished Public Service Medal.

"I know very little about county government," Weingarten says. But his work at Bendix Field Engineering hadsome similarities, he believes. "We went from four employees to over7,000, pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps -- no acquisitions" --while operating and maintaining a major portion of NASA's space-tracking network from Project Mercury to the space shuttle.

There is no magic formula for improving a company's or a government's productivity, Weingarten says. "You have to set up a program within the culture of your people. If a policy covers 90 percent of the situations, it's a good policy. But you need to be ready to deviate. It can't be a straitjacket."

Weingarten isn't overly optimistic about what his commission can accomplish.

"I'm hoping to come up with some solid recommendations," he says. "If the ideas are good, maybe someone will have the courage" to change the bureaucracy to implement them. "If not, they will be shot down. We haven't written a preliminary report sopeople can come in and prove that we're right."

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