For critics of state government, the good news is that Gov. William Donald Schaefer is replacing all of his Cabinet secretaries. The bad news is that the move is temporary and the replacements are other secretaries.
For the next 3 1/2 weeks, 32 top Schaefer administration officials, including the governor, will play a grand game of musical chairs and spend half their day in a new assignment in a new department. The rest of their day will be spent in their regular jobs.
Schaefer got the ball rolling yesterday by sweeping into a executive staff meeting -- several minutes late -- at the Department of Human Resources in Baltimore.
"We had a very nice meeting with him," said Elizabeth Bobo, a deputy secretary of human resources.
The meeting ended with a pep talk from the governor.
"It was very good for their morale," Bobo said. "These are not easy jobs these people do."
Schaefer apparently left quickly without shuffling a single piece of paper, and promised to return by Friday at the latest.
Torrey C. Brown, who usually runs the Department of Natural Resources, checked in as secretary of the Department of Agriculture. In Brown's absence, two of Schaefer's top State House aides, Mark L. Wasserman and Robert A. Pascal, will spend their mornings seeing how things run at DNR. Agriculture Secretary Wayne A. Cawley, meanwhile, will act as secretary of state.
The job-swapping is designed to give bureaucrats a feel for what their colleagues are doing in other departments, according to Ray Feldmann, a spokesman for Schaefer.
"Maybe this will help them come up with some solutions in their own departments," Feldmann said.
The only Cabinet member excused from the job-swapping is Public Safety Secretary Bishop L. Robinson, who, it appears, has enough to worry about with the state prison system.
Schaefer's Cabinet swapped jobs once before, in 1988.
At DHR, workers did their best to spruce up Schaefer's temporary office, painting over scuff marks and cleaning the carpet.
"The carpet is in horrible shape and when it was cleaned, it looks worse," said Helen Szablya, a DHR spokeswoman. "With lousy carpet, dirt goes down and comes back up."
One DHR worker, who preferred to remain anonymous, said there is a tongue-in-cheek office pool as to who will be the first fired under the temporary secretary.