University at Albany

From October 2011 through June 2012, Dr. Ellen V. Rubin, an assistant professor of public administration and policy at Rockefeller College and specialist in public personnel management, served as an advisor to New York State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo's Commission on Spending and Government Efficiency (SAGE).

In 2011, the SAGE Commission embarked on a two-year comprehensive review of state government in an effort to improve its efficiency and cost-effectiveness. In her role as advisor, Dr. Rubin helped the commission gain a better understanding of state workforce management challenges. Over the course of her work, Dr. Rubin and her team interviewed 28 current and retired state agency executives and conducted 38 small group interviews at four state agencies.

On February 12, 2013, the SAGE Commission, chaired by Lieutenant Governor Robert J. Duffy released its final report.

We spoke with Dr. Rubin recently about her participation with the SAGE Commission:

What was your role with the SAGE Commission?

Dr. Rubin: I served as an advisor to the workforce modernization efforts of the SAGE Commission. I consulted SAGE Commission staff and the workforce advisory council to identify challenges facing the state workforce. My team conducted interviews with nearly 40 state executives, and conducted small group interviews with 38 groups of employees and managers at four state agencies. The information gathered from these interviews was used to identify the biggest challenges facing the state workforce and to inform the recommendations made by the Commission. I shared my research findings during briefings with commission staff, the workforce advisory council, Commission members, and the New York State Department of Civil Service.

What did you learn while working as an advisor for the commission?

Dr. Rubin: State employees are very dedicated to their work and the people they serve, despite difficult fiscal circumstances. Across interviews, three major challenges facing the workforce emerged. First, the performance management system is broken. Second, the process for hiring and promoting employees needs to be modernized and streamlined. Third, there is a strong desire for more professional development opportunities, especially for supervisors and managers. These problems are not unique to New York State and took years to develop.

How did lessons learned from working with the commission inform your research and teaching?

Dr. Rubin: I frequently use examples from the interviews in class discussions (without naming specific individuals or agencies). These examples help students understand the significance of the problems and the importance of careful management. Furthermore, the problems identified are not unique to New York. Many public agencies have difficulty establishing a meaningful performance management system and many cut training in times of increasing fiscal constraints. The lessons learn from New York help me ask better questions in my research on employee perceptions of fairness and performance management. Finally, I included a number of master's and doctoral students in the effort. The experience was helpful to MPA students who were considering what career path or type of research to pursue. It provided doctoral students an opportunity to see data collection in action and reflect on possible research topics for their dissertation studies.

Professor Ellen Rubin's research agenda
is firmly rooted in traditional public administration, within the subfields of public management and public personnel management in particular. She approaches personnel issues through the lens of strategic human capital management, which asserts that people should be viewed as an assent that an organization should invest in and develop, and personnel management policies should be analyzed from the perspective of how well they help an organization accomplish its mission.

Dr. Rubin earned her PhD in public administration from the University of Georgia and her MPA from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University. Prior to working in academia, she worked at the U.S. Government Accountability Office as a Senior Analyst for Human Capital Policy.