Rays of Hope

by Michael Thompson

The General Assembly is considering several bills that would improve the efficiency of state government. We’ll find out soon how serious legislators are about getting them passed.

This year’s session of the General Assembly, with a little luck, will continue moving Virginia toward the formation of a better, more accountable and more business-like state government. We’ll know a lot more in a few weeks when this year’s session ends. Right now there is lot to be excited about. More.

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  1. Will Vehrs Avatar
    Will Vehrs

    I wish I could be as optimistic as you, Michael.

    To truly reform state government and make it more cost-effective would require a governor truly committed to the concept and gubernatorial appointees who were judged on their results in bringing new efficiencies to government.

    An Inspector General might find some waste and inefficiencies, but state government is large and de-centralized. An IG will either be at the mercy of the agency being evaluated or will have spend an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out what the agency does and how it might do it better.

    Giving cost-cutting employees a slice of the savings seems like a good idea, but, again, these programs are at the mercy of the agency deciding if it’s a good idea or not. I recall an employee being lauded for a suggestion to remove a large number of phones still hooked up in empty offices. A colleague wondered why the manager who let this cost continue wasn’t disciplined or fired.

    Governor Warner tried to be an “efficiency” governor, but he gave up early on that worthy endeavor. I saw no indication that wasteful practices in agencies were of any interest to Cabinet Secretaries, so they continued.

    Today’s newspaper gives Virginia an A- for management. There’s no market for efficiency when that kind of grade is handed out amidst obvious wasteful or inefficient practices.

  2. Barnie Day Avatar
    Barnie Day

    You guys are funny. There is no such thing as government efficiency! There can’t be, almost by definition. It’s an oxymoron–by design! Same with all of the hooey you hear about running the government ‘like a business.’ Sounds good to some people, I suppose–not to me. I know it’s a crock–especially if the business is capitalistic and the government is a democracy. One of the salient features of a democracy is protection of the minority–not a very ‘efficient’ way to do anything. But, anyway, carry on. Beat that drum as long as you like the sound of it.

  3. Will Vehrs Avatar
    Will Vehrs

    Barnie, I can’t believe you believe all that or would countenance waste and inefficiency if you saw it.

    I’ve worked in the private sector for 16 years and state government for almost 9. I agree that government can’t be run like a business–a lot of businesses aren’t run particularly well but make money in spite of themselves.

    What I’m talking about, though, is government spending more of the people’s money on the people’s business, not on self-aggrandizing internal empire-building. I’m talking about providing services at the least cost–send an email instead of writing a letter, make a website intuitive instead of mailing people a printed document. Simple things could save so much, but many of the political hacks who run agencies have absolutely no interest in anything other than maintaining their budget.

    When state employees start thinking that the money they’re spending could be going to a Medicaid recipient instead of their fancy-schmanzy seminar or new Blackberry device, I’ll say we’ve made progress.

  4. Barnie Day Avatar
    Barnie Day

    Will, I agree we could save a few coins in operational economies, and in aggregate I guess a few pennies here and a few pennies there add up. But this is not the scope of real waste, of real inefficiencies in government. This kind of penny-pinching–emails vs. letters–doesn’t blip the radar screen. Real waste comes in program redundancies, in building weapons systems we don’t need, in keeping bases open primarily for the make-work jobs they provide, in welfare–not of the food stamp variety (miniscule in total)–but of the corporate variety that is hidden in tax policy, or out-and-out direct subsidy, and in a million and one pork-barrel projects. These things exist at the local, state, and national levels and they all have constituences who love them and jealously guard and protect them. No, it is stronger than that. We demand them. You know, there is a lot of traffic on this blog about transportation and congestion. Do you realize that 80% of the vehicle miles driven in this state are racked up by vehicles with one occupant? Nationally, it’s 85%. Talk about waste and ineffiency! What’s the government got to do with that? Those ineffiencies are pushed by policies. I heard a dairy farmer once bitch about the giveaways of government cheese–little realizing that the government acquired the cheese by paying him an artificial price for the milk he produced!

  5. Will Vehrs Avatar
    Will Vehrs

    I don’t think I’ve ever been as discouraged and disappointed by a public figure’s attitude as I am by yours, Barnie.

    If you wonder why so many conservatives disdain government, you provide the answer.

    We were talking about state government, not Federal weapons programs or make-work jobs at military bases. (Note we spend a lot of money in this state trying to preserve those bases and jobs.) We weren’t talking about corporate welfare–that’s another subject and we’re probably closer to you than you think.

    I don’t know where the one person/one car thing came from. If I recommended doing something about it, you’d complain I wasn’t living up to my free market philosophy.

    I think Jim was right a few days ago: there’s a “damned if you do, damned if don’t” quality about your commentary. I suppose that’s the downside of the delightful provacateur/partisan persona you bring to the debate.

    Apparently, I’ve been a damn fool trying to bring efficiency to what I do and to argue for efficiencies elsewhere. It’s just a “blip.” Why bother?

  6. Barnie Day Avatar
    Barnie Day

    Will, regarding your ‘damned if I do, damned if I don’t’ characterization, I can only offer this defense:

    Roses are red,
    violets are blue.
    I’m schizophrenic,
    and so am I!

  7. Will Vehrs Avatar
    Will Vehrs

    At least you’re our schizophrenic.

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