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Right of Way Quality Managment System - The Journey of Five States

The Survey States: Louisiana

Right-of-way processes in the State of Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (LADOTD) are conducted through a completely centralized organizational structure; however, a decentralized structure exists for the acquisition program. Louisiana has nine districts, all of which report to the central office. Downward delegation and empowerment are key in LADOTD. The real estate section has approximately 105 employees, reduced from 250 positions approximately 15 years ago. The state legislature limited the staff size of the organization through attrition. During this time, only the positions of secretary and appraiser could be replaced until the ROW section achieved the 105-employee target goal.

The ROW budget averages about $20 million per year for acquisitions and $3 million per year for employee salaries. Approximately 95 percent of the appraisal function, excluding appraisal waivers, is contracted out. This amounted to $2 million in consultant fees last year (not including expropriations). The agency appraises roughly 600-2,000 parcels per year. The mission of the real estate section is to provide, in cooperation with public and private partners, efficient and effective ROW acquisition and related activities that promote economic development and enhance quality of life.

The appraisal waiver process in Louisiana starts with an internal cost estimate to determine if the waiver process is appropriate or if the property will go through the normal appraisal process. LADOTD estimates that only one-third of the parcels in a given project will be addressed in the waiver process, which is used only for properties where estimated value is less than $10,000 and valuation is not complicated. The waiver level started at $2,500 in 1997 but was increased to $10,000 in fiscal year 1998. LADOTD staff completes all work using the waiver process. For properties over $10,000 or for complicated parcels, the regular appraisal process is implemented, wherein LADOTD contracts for outside consultants to conduct the appraisal. Up to 98 percent of the appraisals are completed by contractors. Central office reviews the completed appraisal, which, once approved, is sent to the acquisition group who then contacts the property owners by mail.

LADOTD completes negotiations through use of mail and telephone. Staff found this technique to improve production and decrease costs with no loss of quality. Additionally, LADOTD staff discovered that many property owners did not want to meet with them personally, that they preferred having the offer sent to them so they could present it to their attorney or read it for themselves. In fiscal year 1998, 97 legal settlements were reached and only one case went to court. Costs to bring a claim to court can be as high as $30,000. LADOTD estimates that in a year's time, up to five cases may go to court. If a legal settlement is reached, the State will pay attorney and expert witness fees. District managers can settle administrative suits up to $10,000 without central office involvement. If LADOTD loses a suit, the State assumes court costs, attorney fees, and costs for a second appraisal (if conducted). In Louisiana, the courts have defined the full extent of an owner's loss in the state's constitution as an amount higher than the fair market value. The courts have generally decided that you must place the owner in the same pecuniary position as he or she enjoyed prior to the taking. Generally, for residences this equates to: Fair Market Value + Relocation Assistance = Full Extent of an Owner's Loss

Public Relations

LADOTD has a public relations person in the highway department, but major media issues are handled in the Secretary of Transportation's office. The agency has focused on improved communications with its local public agencies. ROW staff and the FHWA realty officer meet with the LPAs and others involved with the right-of-way process every other month. These meetings rotate through different areas of the state, attendants routinely includes representatives from FHWA, the Corps of Engineers, Federal Aviation Association (FAA), Housing and Urban Development (HUD), U.S. Department of Agriculture, local and state agencies, etc, as well as consultants. Some of these meetings are instructional, featuring seminars and roundtables, others are for sharing of ideas. LADOTD staff believe in incorporating consultants as staff/team members so all can work together. All parties involved have found this type of communication and education tremendously important. LADOTD staff absorb the LPA projects as a normal part of the workload, and LPA staff go directly to the LADOTD for the expertise they need. The more that LPAs learn about the ROW process, the less assistance they require. This has been especially true with the more population.

Public relations in Louisiana also places a strong emphasis on the needs of internal customers. The organization has implemented flextime and compressed time as employee rewards. These options really improve staff morale, which is, perhaps, the most striking feature of the LADOTD operation. The enthusiasm, esprit de corps, optimism, teamwork, and "can do" attitude of the staff permeates the operation and is positively contagious. This attitude might result, in part, from participation in employee activities like King Cake celebrations and crawfish boils. However, one could also see the exceptional staff attitude as a direct by-product of empower-ment leading to a "one team, one goal, one mission" perspective.

Training

Training is achieved through various avenues. On-the-job training and mentoring are the main training tools. ROW staff also attend the International ROW Association training classes for professional development, and training is considered a core value of the LADOTD strategic plan. At one time, staff attended FHWA regional workshops--before the regional concept was abolished. However, the five states in this former FHWA region have agreed in principal to have informal workshops and invite FHWA. LADOTD employees contributed valuable information, along with other states, at these meetings.

Project Management

In the area of project management, LADOTD uses a team approach. Once a week, all division directors are involved in a project meeting to discuss project-related issues. Agenda items include, but are not limited to, problems, schedules and project needs. Breaking down the walls between divisions achieves a mutual understanding of other technical areas. Additionally, LADOTD created a new project manager position through civil service to specifically focus on keeping projects on schedule. Staff reported that this position has been highly successful.

Another project management technique LADOTD uses is the joint review meeting. Membership in this group includes two design engineers, three location survey staff (who prepare the ROW maps), and one real estate representative. The meeting gives the engineers the opportunity to comment on the ROW plan prior to design and provides ROW staff with input regarding the letting schedule. The joint committee together decides how it should proceed for access to properties. These meetings came about as a result of the total quality management (TQM) process and employee concerns about problems created by constant revisions to ROW plans. Real estate chairs this group, and all comments generated from the meeting go out for departmental comments. Shortly thereafter, ROW maps are prepared to finalize and process with acquisitions. Before the joint review meetings, the surveying and contracting sections were responsible for checking the accuracy of the ROW maps; now the joint review team handles this responsibility.

Production Tools

Numerous production tools are present in the Louisiana ROW office, but the tool most closely associated with the continuous improvement process is the use of TQM teams. The TQM teaming concept initially came about as a result of a public/private partnership called the Louisiana Quality Initiatives (LQI). Membership included private industry representatives and LADOTD top-echelon managers. This team looked at the top 10 problem areas in the agency and applied the TQM problem-solving process to the top 5. As a result of this activity, the utilities section was moved to the real estate section, solving a utility payment problem and winning the agency a national award. Currently, TQM team members are selected from the employees involved in a particular problem. A formal TQM process usually includes hiring a professional facilitator to ensure that no one dictates to the group. ROW director Jim Dousay felt that the facilitator was instrumental to the success of the process; however, convincing upper management of this need was difficult. According to Mr. Dousay, "Many people thought there was no problem with the process as is--and people do not want to change! Change is going to be constant now. It will be a continuous process." The first TQM team had 11 members who came up with 25-30 recommendations currently being implemented or considered for implementation. Consistent with the continuous improvement philosophy, a TQM team can be formed at any time in the process, with the objective of reducing the work cycle. Employees note, "One of the most critical parts of the TQM process is the plan to implement the recommendations, and upper management must buy off on the process."

An area of great success for LADOTD has been its continuous focus on process improvement throughout the organization. Achievements include a revision of the forms used across the State. Applying the TQM process has pared down forms and made them compatible statewide. Currently, LADOTD is in the process of putting all of its forms and its policy manual on one computer. Baton Rouge is serving as one of the pilots for this automated forms process. LADOTD employees completed a process map for routing procedures and title work. One TQM assignment was to shorten the scope of title research work. Original title work now goes directly to location and survey, as opposed to being sent to headquarters first. This routing process change saved the Baton Rouge district 4 working days. Routing has also been examined in the map preparation area. LADOTD now sends the map directly to the person who needs it, as opposed to those who request it. This one step has saved the agency 10 working days, creating a brief "take off" document that permits the staff to finish the title abstract while the mapmaker is already underway. Other process improvements relate to preparation of sales paperwork and expropriations--ensuring that the terms of the sale are agreed upon before writing it up so the sales paperwork is done only once. Changing the way it does business for expropriations has taken LADOTD's percentage of rewrites from 35-40 percent to approximately 9 percent. Further process changes include eliminating a typing pool of about 20 people and having agents complete their work on computers. With all of these process improvements, the goal is the same--to get projects to construction sooner.

To deal with work overload, LADOTD established the "statewide gang," a group of central office, project management staff that can be dispatched in areas of greatest need. At first employees wondered whether the members of the statewide gang would want to go back out to the field. But they did, and with enthusiasm, helping the whole state work as one team. According to Robert David, real estate project manager, "They prefer the centralized structure. Decentralizing people only creates little kingdoms out there in the districts." Besides traveling across districts, the statewide gang addressed overflow work involving acquisitions. All agents know all aspects of ROW work, as opposed to specializing in particular functions.

LADOTD has also made successful use of consultants as a production tool. With workload projected to double soon, LADOTD plans to hire individuals--as quasi part-time employees--to do the paperwork, rather than a management-consulting firm. About 90 percent of its appraisal work is contracted out, amounting to $2 million in consultant fees last year. A penalty clause in the contract for consultants imposes a 5-percent penalty per day if the consultant misses a deadline. Likewise, incentives with bonuses are given for completing a project early. Consultants are paid $500 per day. The consultant then works as a team member, along with LADOTD staff, and may only complete one project at a time. This has decreased processing time while sustaining quality through the appraisal grading process.

LADOTD mails offers to property owners and negotiates offers by telephone. This process change, already used for out-of-state landowners, immediately reduced LADOTD expenses 50-75 percent, and is an example of a simple process improvement. LADOTD also uses a detailed brochure that helps the property owner know what questions to ask. LADOTD also mails out counter offers. This mailing-out process has improved production with no loss of quality and has given clients what they want. Out of 500 contacts ROW staff made with clients, 460 preferred the mail-out service program over personal meetings. This process change has enabled ROW staff to spend more time with complicated cases requiring personal contact.

Another production tool used by LADOTD is staff empowerment. Downward delegation and empowerment is key. Agents are empowered to negotiate. District managers can settle administrative suits up to $10,000 without central office involvement. ROW supervisors have also been directed to stay in their offices and supervise rather than doing the work of their subordinates. District managers aid ROW field staff by giving them the tools they need to complete their jobs. LADOTD has also made strategic use of technology for productivity improvement, investing in TV/VCR and camcorder equipment. A staff member videotapes every project from its start. When LADOTD personnel have any questions, they can view the tape. Often the videotape saves staff another trip out to the project site. The tape also serves as documentary evidence if the property requires litigation. Site photos, from 4" x 6" up to poster size, can be generated off the videotape. LADOTD is also purchasing a user-friendly computer system, and will install a PC on each employee's desk.

Internal and External Controls

Project control is handled through assignment of project numbers, contracts and specifications, construction billings, funds tracking, and through the use of a quality review process. Headquarters staff review work at the district offices, a task previously performed by FHWA. Quality review teams visit each district about once a year. LADOTD has implemented approximately 40 policy changes based on input from the districts following these reviews. Audit findings are summarized in a report sent to the district manager involved in the quality review process. The district manager has an opportunity to respond to issues raised. The review is not seen as a report card--but as a vehicle to communicate issues, challenges, and solutions. This quality review process, which started 3 years ago, has resulted in tremendous process improvements. LADOTD is evaluating whether quality assurance (QA) audits should be conducted annually.

Another process change is to have everyone sign all reports, which LADOTD believes to instill accountability and ownership. Additionally, all statistics are checked each quarter, for the number of people relocated, dollars spent, condemnation rate, etc.

Performance Indices

LADOTD's database system is called RAMS--real estate acquisition management system. It was developed about 15 years ago for management purposes; however, it does not really serve well in the area of performance indicators. To examine the type of data system needed, LADOTD now has a dedicated staff member focusing on automation and designing a system to provide an overview of the program and answer the question--where are we and where are we going? The new system will include production, status, and recordkeeping functions.

LADOTD believes that the database/system should also help agents with day-to-day activities such as cost estimates and title work. Any new system created must be "tweakable" to readily incorporate further changes and developments. New system design must take into account many inherently different functions involved in the process. Breakdown in communication prevents parties from getting all the information they need. Technological processes should include reminders for when items "fall through the cracks." A fully integrated data system will show problem areas where TQM processes can be applied and can track successes once TQM solutions have been discovered and implemented. Process changes occurring through TQM should be entered into the data system so they can be tracked and evaluated by the system. While Louisiana is not yet tracking its processes with fully developed performance indicators, the State is well on its way in the conceptual design of a system to further this journey.

Louisiana Planning Model

According to the LADOTD strategic plan, the philosophy of the real estate section is "to serve the transportation needs of the public. We are committed to teamwork, quality, integrity, professionalism, innovation, and excellence in serving our customers."

Goals and objectives directly related to LADOTD's strategic plan include the following:

LADOTD's philosophy is to change a process that needs changing. Staff are not married to any particular process.

Updated: 09/05/2014
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