Getting Smarter in Annapolis

June 18, 1991

Gov. William Donald Schaefer aptly summed up the new crusade that seems to be gathering momentum in Annapolis when he announced recently the state's new 14-point, no-frills Chesapeake Bay cleanup program: "We must be smarter and more resourceful to make our dollars go the extra mile," Mr. Schaefer noted. In other words, now is the time to make government cost-efficient while improving its effectiveness.

Signs of this crusade abound. With the recession putting a severe crimp in state revenues, State House officials have to find ways to make do with less. This means setting priorities and then shifting funds to support programs at the top of the list.

That's also what University of Maryland Chancellor Donald N. Langenberg told employees of the UM system. Having absorbed $80 million in budget cuts, thus lowering state aid on an inflation-adjusted basis to 1987 levels, the university faces perilous times -- but also "a historic opportunity to reshape," according to the chancellor.

He called for a redeployment of resources and a new approach that he termed "budgeting by priority." In Dr. Langenberg's words, "We can shift funds from activities of lower priority into those that are central to the mission of each institution. We can eliminate selected programs and invest in those that will make the greatest contributions to educational excellence and service to the state."

This requires painful decisions on campus. Yet the result could be a far more focused and effective public university system.

Elsewhere, the stress will be on thinning state management ranks. As Lt. Gov. Melvin Steinberg told a group of Baltimore lawyers at a recent meeting, "There is a tremendous amount of fat, a tremendous amount of inefficiency" in state agencies. The time has come, he said, to start eliminating duplicate layers of management.

Some agencies are trying other approaches. The state health department has announced a program that will save money by paradoxically expanding services for diabetics on Medicaid. By spending an extra $1.7 million on preventive treatment, officials figure to save at least $2.4 million in reduced hospital stays. Everyone wins: Medicaid recipients with diabetes get better health care and avoid severe illnesses; the state ends up with a net saving and the taxpayer's burden is reduced.

Frugality in government can, as Mr. Schaefer put it in his bay announcement, mean smart and resourceful initiatives that pay dividends. Many of the steps outlined to clean up the Chesapeake won't cost much money -- the stress is on volunteerism, for instance -- but could lead to significant advances in restoring the bay's health. As state officials are discovering, money alone is not the answer to all social problems. Better management and more innovative approaches often are enough to get the job done.

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