The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) of the mid-1980s was characterized by a paternalistic management structure that had become unresponsive to the needs of its workforce, as well as those of the people who use the state's transportation systems. In 1987, the Oregon Transportation Commission, the citizen board that oversees the department, appointed a new director whose mission was to introduce modern management practices to an agency that had not changed its management approach in decades.
Two of the goals of ODOT's new management orientation were to decentralize decision-making and reduce levels of management. ODOT implemented Self-Directed Maintenance Crews to further this emphasis on bringing the decision-making process to the lowest possible level; allowing the people who actually do the work to decide how the highways can best be maintained. The purpose of this program is to significantly reduce layers of management; create empowered, self-directed maintenance teams; improve product service with fewer financial resources; and make better use of human resources. Employees are provided with decision-making tools—training and guidelines—that empower them to make and implement decisions based on ODOT's mission, values, long-term goals and objectives. The tools include skill training in ethical decision-making as a group and as an individual. ODOT maintenance crews now handle a variety of situations and working conditions, from patching potholes in 100-degree heat to plowing snow in subfreezing cold. The crews are responsible for keeping the state's vital transportation systems open for its clients, the users of the state's transportation systems.
All Oregon city and county officials were surveyed to gauge levels of satisfaction with Self-Directed Highway Maintenance (SDHM) efforts . Seventy-five percent of respondents indicated that the work being done by SDMH crews was the same as under the old system or had shown improvement. When asked about safety through work zones, 60 percent said the work areas were safe and felt they received courteous treatment. After the first two years of operation, 44 percent of crews were operating at an acceptable level. The greatest achievement of SDHM has been to reduce public spending while maintaining service levels through the re-ordering of the management system.