Category Archives: Efficiency in government

Certificate of Public Need’s Hall of Mirrors

by James C. Sherlock

Versailles Hall of Mirrors

In Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors, everything is reflected hundreds of times.

The mirrors were also a commercial. They represented an effort of Louis XIV to establish for France monopolies on the production of luxury goods.

Virginia’s Certificate of Public Need (COPN) law and regulations represent a similar structure.

Everything in the process reflects back on itself. Those reflections both reinforce the structure and cement monopolies. Though it represents the intrigue of Versailles, COPN lacks beauty and grace. But, in another similarity, neither Louis nor Virginia’s General Assembly tried to represent the interests of the people in these enterprises.

This essay will help explain how COPN works. It would be shorter if the tentacles of COPN were not so completely enveloping and self-reinforcing. This is in its entirety both legal and a scandal, as with much else in Virginia politics.

Two recent COPN decisions affect my home area of South Hampton Roads. Those cases pointed to the systemic roadblocks to successfully challenging Sentara Healthcare’s dominance here which will never be surmounted while COPN stands as is. Continue reading

Virginia Pandemic Emergency Plan Was Never Exercised


by James C. Sherlock

As we suspected, Virginia did not exercise its Pandemic Emergency Plan from the time it was published in 2012 until COVID-19 struck.

I received the following response today to a FOIA request I sent to the Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Emergency Management:

The Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) received your February 13, 2021, email regarding a document request. In that request, you seek:

“Existing VDEM records of Virginia state, regional, and local participation in the National Exercise Program since 2012 at every level of training and exercises that addressed Infectious Disease and Biological Incidents.”

VDEM does not have any documentation that meets the requirements of your request. As a result, pursuant to Va. Code § 2.2-3704.B.3, VDEM notes that no records or data exists in response to your request.

Is “oops” a good enough response for the Governor? It appears so.

The VMI Contract: Why the Rush?

by James A. Bacon

Last November 5, the Commonwealth of Virginia issued an RFP for a contract to investigate racism at the Virginia Military Institute. The document set an ambitious deadline. Responses were due November 17 — giving vendors less than two weeks to prepare submissions. Moreover, the document wanted the successful bidder to provide preliminary findings and recommendations by Dec. 31 and final recommendations by June 2021.

That made no sense to Carter Melton, VMI class of ’67, two-term VMI board member, and retired president of Rockingham Memorial Hospital. During his 30 years with the hospital, he had developed dozens of RFPs. He had never seen such ambitious deadlines for such a complex project. When he read the document, he was astonished — so astonished that he took out a full-page ad in the Sunday Richmond Times-Dispatch to get his views in front of Governor Ralph Northam.

First, he wrote, the scope of this project was vast and boundless. The RFP called for extensive document review, focus groups, anonymous questionnaires, a cross mapping of relevant VMI policies with those of every other college and university in the Commonwealth, and numerous legal opinions. “This is a huge piece of work; it asks for everything but the kitchen sink.” Continue reading

The Systemic Racism of Government Incompetence

Eric Fly

by James A. Bacon

Just as the COVID-19 virus was creeping into Virginia last March, the state shut down the Sussex County Health Department — and didn’t bother to inform local government officials for two weeks. To this day, reports WRIC, the health department remains closed, and a sign on its door reads, “All public health services for this area have been redirected to another location.”

“They just quite frankly disappeared, Sussex Supervisor Eric Fly told WRIC. “They shut the doors and went away. We had no notification. There wasn’t an email, a phone call, a text.”

Fly said that county officials were told residents could continue to get services and make appointments in Hopewell — 40 miles away. “We have an aging population, a lot of people don’t drive. We don’t have buses, we don’t have taxis.”

Percentage of Sussex County population that is African-American: 57%. Continue reading

All According to Plan – the Biggest Government Scandal in Virginia History

by James C. Sherlock

The Virginia Mercury published  an excellent article on the difficulties being encountered in Virginia in scheduling COVID shots.

But who could have anticipated the need? Who indeed.

This story is part of the single biggest government scandal in Virginia history and the press is either ignorant of the underlying issue or has ignored it. I think ignorance is more likely. Certainly Governor Northam’s executive branch made every effort to hide it from them.

I say the executive branch because I firmly believe — and hope really — the Governor himself never had a clue.

The now-hidden-from-public-view Commonwealth of Virginia Emergency Operations Plan, Hazard-Specific Annex #4 Pandemic Influenza Response (Non-Clinical), Virginia Department of Emergency Management August 2012 (the Plan) required planning and exercise of a vaccine distribution plan and much more.

Never happened.

The Plan specified planning, exercise and operational responsibilities for
the following executive branch organizations: Continue reading

Federal COVID Funding to Virginia K-12 Schools

by James C. Sherlock

The federal government allocated a great deal of money in each of two different pieces of legislation in 2020 to provide COVID-related relief to K-12 schools.

I will endeavor here to explain briefly what that means to Virginia.

The two pieces of 2020 federal legislation that provide funding to K-12 schools were:

  • Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act signed into law on March 27, 2020; and
  • Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021 (CRRSA) signed into law on December 27, 2020

Two of the major program elements under each of those two bills are :

  • Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER and ESSER II) funding – Virginia’s allocation is $1.2 billion dollars, 90% of which is to be sub-allocated by formula to school districts.
  • Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEERS and GEERS II) funding – $132 million to be allocated to the neediest public schools and non-public schools at the Governor’s discretion.  Money for the Emergency Assistance for Non-Public Schools (EANS) program is part of the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund.  Virginia’s EANS allocation was $46,618,019. For comparison, total Virginia K-12 school spending from all sources was estimated by the NEA at $17.8 billion in 2018-19.

By way of comparison, the federal government sent $1 billion to Virginia for K-12 schools in 2019, including big money from the Department of Agriculture for the National School Lunch program ($247 million) and other non-educational programs, so the 2020 COVID supplementals already exceed the original annual federal appropriations for Virginia. Continue reading

Dysfunction Exposed in COVID Demands Overhaul of Virginia’s Government

by James C. Sherlock

Great Seal of Virginia

We all like to discuss the politics of things. That in many instances is appropriate. But political leadership is neither the problem nor the solution I will discuss here today.  

We will spend every day between now and November’s election debating how the politicians responded to COVID. And we should. But our state government has failed both us and our elected leaders.  

I submit that the failures of the bureaucracies would have crippled elected officials from either party. We need desperately to fix the laws, regulations and bureaucratic structures that harbor such failures as permanently as we are able.

I will suggest a path.

What needs to be done?

I wrote in late March in praise of Virginia’s pandemic influenza emergency plan and published key details the next day. Two days later I discovered the coverup. The plan had been removed from public view on state websites, never to be heard of again. Continue reading

Is Virginia a Low Tax State? It Depends on What You Measure.

Source: Virginia Compared to Other States, State & Local Tax Revenue

by James A. Bacon

The Joint Legislative Audit & Review Commission has updated its scoreboard comparing Virginia on key metrics to other states — a project championed by Sen. Tim Kaine when he was governor. The idea was to allow Virginians to track the progress of the commonwealth in comparison to peer states on the basis of metrics of spending, taxes, and social well being.

There’s a lot to explore in this database, and I’ll highlight other metrics in future posts. But today, let’s focus on state and local taxes per capita — the most important measure of the size and scope of government. (It is an incomplete measure, to be sure; it does not include indirect levies such as high electric rates to advance green energy goals, but it’s what we have.)

Bottom line: Virginia, once considered a low tax state, has moved into the top 50%. As of Fiscal Year 2018, the most recent date for which JLARC collected data, Virginia ranked 24th in the country at $4,994 per capita in state and local tax collections. But there is another way to spin the data… Continue reading

A Horse Built by a Committee

by James C. Sherlock

Updated Jan 31 at 8:46 AM

Virginia’s Attorney General has offered a bill to create a new state bureaucracy to handle the opioid settlement money about to flow into the Commonwealth to support prevention, treatment, and recovery. It is going to be a lot of money. The state opioid settlements will not be the end of it.  Federal money is coming for the same purpose. 

The Attorney General wants a new state Opioid Abatement Fund (OAF) for the money and a new state Opioid Abatement Authority (OAA) to spend it.  The AG admits he has no idea how much money will be available, yet his bill places constraints on how it may be spent and earmarks the distribution of the funds.

I disagree.

The Problem

According to the CDC, opioids—mainly synthetic opioids (other than methadone)—are currently the main driver of drug overdose deaths.

East of the Mississippi river, the legal product that kills is commercially produced opioids illegally prescribed and filled.  They include:

  • Natural opioids: Pain medications like morphine and codeine
  • Semi-synthetic opioids: Pain medications like oxycodone, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, and oxymorphone
  • Methadone: A synthetic opioid used to treat pain, but it can also be provided through opioid treatment programs to treat opioid use disorders.

Look below at the CDC map showing Opioid prescription dispensing rate  and see the dark scar through the Appalachians showing more than 112 prescriptions per 100 persons.

2015 Opioid Dispensing Rate per 100 Persons – Credit – CDC

Continue reading

Fix the Structurally Broken Virginia Government

by James C. Sherlock

Great Seal of Virginia

When offered a choice of reasons for failures of large scale government actions, your first choice should always be incompetence, not bad intentions.

Big government requires competent legislatures, competent management and  control of executive departments, apolitical oversight by attorneys general and objective studies of its failures if it has any hope of being efficient and effective.

Absolutely no one after seeing the Virginia government reaction to COVID would accuse it of any of that. We need to fix it.

Unintended consequences of legislation

Readers just had an extended discussion over my column on the unintended consequences of minimum wage hikes.

It should be not too much to ask that Virginia politicians demand a full study of the effects of legislation, including minimum wage legislation, that is guaranteed to have far-reaching effects on the state. But they do not do it in the case of minimum wage hikes.

A structural problem in the General Assembly Continue reading

Virginia’s Mass Vaccination Effort and Health Facilities Inspections — Troubling Evidence

by James C. Sherlock

M. Norman Oliver M.D., Virginia Health Commissioner

Updated Jan 19 at 2:55 PM

If you’ve been wondering why Virginia has fumbled its rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, consider this: The Virginia Department of Health. As of one week ago, the Virginia Department of Health had not yet developed a vaccination plan.

From a presentation, “Virginia Department of Health Budget,” to Senate Finance & Appropriations Committee by State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver on Jan. 12, 2021:

COVID-19 Mass Vaccination Effort

VDH is leading a Vaccine Unit that has been formed under the Public Health Surveillance and Guidance Workgroup of the Commonwealth’s unified command structure. The Vaccine Unit is currently developing a COVID-19 vaccination plan for the Commonwealth. Additionally, a Vaccine Advisory Workgroup will be formed to provide perspective from varying points of view on actions and policies developed by VDH as it relates to COVID-19 vaccine and other vaccine-preventable diseases.

FY21 – $30,184,899 (General Fund)
FY22 – $59,123,029 (General Fund)

So VDH was “currently developing a COVID 19 vaccination plan” and had not yet formed a vaccine advisory group on January 12, 2021. The citizens of Virginia have known since March of last year that the state would need a vaccination plan. Continue reading

Let’s Get Our Money’s Worth from Those 2,000 Contact Tracers

by James A. Bacon

The Virginia Department of Health has hired 2,000 COVID-19 contact tracers and investigators since May, but the virus has spread so rapidly that public health officials are conducting triage: focusing scarce resources on household members of people diagnosed within the past six days, people living in prisons and nursing homes, and individuals whose co-morbidities make them especially vulnerable to the disease.

State Health Commissioner Norman Oliver said in a statement that the change will allow Virginia to deploy resources where they will have the most impact, reports the Virginia Mercury.

“This means that the local health department may not be contacting everyone with COVID-19 infection or close contact to someone with COVID-19 infection,” Oliver wrote. “Instead, VDH urges people to take proactive responsibility to isolate at home if they are infected and to identify and notify their close contacts.”

I have always been skeptical that, except in special circumstances, contact tracing would prove of much assistance fighting a virus that spreads as easily and stealthily as COVID-19. By the time people are notified that they have been exposed, they likely already have the disease and have passed it on to others. Making the task even more difficult here in America, as opposed to countries with conformist cultures, many people refuse to cooperate. In New Jersey, reports CBSN Philly, an astonishing 74% of those contacted declined to answer question. Continue reading

Governor Northam, You’ve Got the Money for Eviction Relief — Do Something!

by James A. Bacon

Virginia is in the midst of a housing eviction crisis arising from the economic disruption caused by the COVID-19 epidemic. Here in Virginia, governments have responded through three major initiatives: The federal government distributed one-time $1,200 stimulus checks to American households and funded a $600-per-week supplement to state unemployment benefits through July 31. And Governor Ralph Northam has allocated $62 million to help families facing evictions.

With all that public assistance, how it is possible that tens of thousands of Virginia families are on the brink of being thrown out of their houses? Nearly 2,000 eviction judgments were rendered in Richmond, Henrico, and Chesterfield counties alone in September and October, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. 

One answer is that the people who need the money aren’t getting it. The federal government managed to blast out its stimulus checks, but Virginia’s unemployment insurance agency has been overwhelmed by the spike in unemployment and can’t keep up. As Don Rippert pointed out a week ago, 70,000 Virginians had yet to receive their unemployment checks. Now we find out that the Northam administration has dispensed only $33.6 million of the $62 million set aside specifically for eviction relief. Continue reading

Northam Administration Information Technology Failures Continue

Image by Mediamodifier from Pixabay

Help! WJLA is reporting that the State of Virginia is using a 35-year-old computer system to process unemployment checks. The system has buckled, leaving 70,000 Virginians without their unemployment benefits.  In a stunning admission, Bill Walker, Director of Unemployment Insurance with the Virginia Employment Commission says, “We are right at the first of July now” when asked how far behind the process stands.

It seems obvious that ineffective processing of unemployment claims disproportionately impacts less affluent and minority Virginians. Yet this issue has been missing from the Ralph Northam COVID-19 updates I have watched.  Those press conferences have included discussions of the presidential election and a description of court cases involving Confederate statues but nothing about the real pain that the ineptitude of the Northam Administration is visiting on 70,000 Virginians, including many people of color. Continue reading

Virginia’s Government – a Critique

by James C. Sherlock

At the age of 75 with a life of experience in and with government, I will offer here my assessment of the current structural problems in our state government that make that government significantly less efficient and effective than it should be.  

You will note that these comments generally do not point fingers at either party, but rather at the sum of their efforts or lack of same. 

I grew up the son of a federal worker. Most of the men in our Falls Church neighborhood were WW II veterans and after the war most of them were civilian employees of the federal government. I spent nearly 30 years in the Navy and ten more as a government contractor. I dealt with Congress a lot.

In retirement, I took up causes for improving my state. I have spent a lot of time over 15 years dealing with the General Assembly, the Governor and the state administration.

So those are the bases for my perspectives. You will note that my experience dealing with the federal government informs my critique of the government of Virginia. Continue reading