February 8, 2010

New Office Will Help Cornell Minimize Spending and Streamline Departments

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In an effort to cut back on the proverbial Big Red tape, the University recently created an Initiatives Coordination Office. Provost Kent Fuchs announced the creation of the ICO on Dec. 16. As one of the newest Reimagining Cornell initiatives, the ICO seeks to maintain and augment efficiency in the face of the ongoing economic recession.

According to Paul Streeter, associate vice president of budget and planning and head of the ICO, the new office is intended to make cost savings that will ultimately allow the University to return to a balanced budget.

“Too much bureaucracy adds costs,” Streeter said, “so we’ve got to find the most effective and streamlined way of doing things.”

As part of the multi-faceted approach to Reimagining Cornell, the ICO’s contribution to the multi-faceted Reimagining process will be to provide significant operational savings which will provide the University with $90 million in administrative savings by the end of this year, according to the ICO’s website.

Since it is so new, Streeter explained, the ICO is “a one-person operation right now. I’m mixing it with my other day job.” He added, “We didn’t set up a bureaucracy to eliminate bureaucracy.”

According to the ICO website, the target areas on which the office will focus involve the development of strategies and action plans, including procurement, facilities, information technology, finance, human resources and communication and organization and management of support activities.

Each target area has an administrative sponsor, one or two academic sponsors and an initiative manager. According to Streeter, the administrative sponsor is a vice president with ongoing “functional responsibility” for a given area, whereas the academic sponsors will provide both an alternative perspective and useful input on how operations affect students and faculty.

Currently, the ICO is in the process of identifying and evaluating the opportunities for saving. Later in the spring the group will report back to Skorton and Fuchs who will review the recommendations and make the final decisions.

“We want to make sure we do it right,” Streeter said.

Although both the academic task forces and the ICO are significant components of the tri-pronged Reimagining Cornell initiative, the ICO has no direct link with the academic task forces. Instead, the ICO is geared towards making savings from non-academic areas including management and administration of the University.

Simeon Moss, deputy University spokesperson, said: “We want to continue robust support [for the University], with fewer resources.”

In terms of the impact on students, Streeter said, “Nothing [specific] has surfaced yet.”

“We are trying to look at areas that minimize the impact on the faculty and students on a day-to-day basis.” Streeter added, “The more [downsizing] we can do out of the administrative and support operations, the less we have to do in the academic arena.”

“For students,” he explained, “nothing is put at great risk.”

As stated in the news release, much of the savings — at least half of the $90 million target — will come from non-personnel savings such as energy conservation and purchasing.

However, Streeter acknowledge that there would be some personnel reductions.

“We don’t yet know the magnitude or exact timing of the personnel reductions,” he said. However, he noted, “ICO realm is an all-staff arena,” and the size of the faculty is an academic decision.

For assistance in this cost-saving endeavor, the ICO is advised by Bain & Co., a consulting firm which helps organizations identify potential savings opportunities, according to Streeter. However, he said, “Bain is a consultant, not the deciders. It is our responsibility to explore the potential opportunities and look at them in detail.” Though Bain will help shape the ICO’s recommendations to the president and the provost, “[Bain] does not have a decision-making role,” Streeter said.

Original Author: Elizabeth Krevsky