Suddenly, Gov. Do-it-now is Gov. Do-it-later

Frank A. DeFilippo

February 04, 1993|By Frank A. DeFilippo

ANYONE who wonders why Mr. and Mrs. America are cynical about their government ought to take a close look at the news.

While most of America's largest corporations -- Armco, IBM, United Technologies, Boeing, McDonnell Douglas, Goodyear, Westinghouse -- are "downsizing" to achieve economy and greater efficiency, Maryland's top politicians are squabbling over whether such a move is necessary with the state's huge work force.

House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell, D-Kent, has devised a framework to streamline state government. He'd do so by combining the Departments of Budget and Fiscal Planning, General Services and Personnel and the Office of Planning into a single-stop shop named Budgetary and Technological Development.

Another proposal would merge the Departments of Natural Resources and Agriculture into the Department of Land and Water Resources and consolidate the natural resources police with the state police under the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer's opposed, so opposed that the doomsday word "veto" is reverberating in the State House this early in the annual General Assembly session.

In his state-of-the-state speech, Mr. Schaefer warned the legislature not to tamper with his administration's superstructure but to wait for any fine-tuning until a new governor takes office in 1995.

Comes now a third voice, that of the redoubtable J. Henry Butta, who headed the Commission on Economy and Efficiency in Government's review of government operations. Mr. Butta's commission concluded generally that no significant benefits would be achieved by consolidating state agencies.

Why, it is fair to ask, is the do-it-now governor the do-it-later governor, suddenly assuming the stance of a political Luddite who's opposed to change when change is the watchword of the '90s and the mantra of the voters?

For openers, it's a matter of pride. Mr. Schaefer and the instrument of government he heads have always been one and the same: Attack my city and you attack me. Attack my state, ditto.

So any action by the legislature to dismember the executive branch would be viewed by Mr. Schaefer not only as a personal slap in the kisser but as an indictment of his performance as


Yet an analysis accompanying one of The Sun's stories on business downsizing says: "It's clear that size no longer is considered a strength. On the contrary, it is now viewed as a handicap. At IBM and Sears, for example, size has contributed to deeply entrenched, lumbering bureaucracies that have failed to match the speed and agility of competitors who are thriving."

The Maryland state payroll has ballooned by 40,000 bodies since 1970, from 55,000 to its current 95,000, including state college and university employees. And in Maryland, fully 25 percent of the total work force is employed at some level of government -- federal, state or local.

Mr. Schaefer has argued often and loudly that it's impossible to operate government like a business. That's true -- up to a point. It's true that the state can't close prisons, shut down hospitals, board up schools and colleges just because money's scarce. It's true that state government is affected mightily by the vicissitudes of the national economy. And it's also true that state government is in the quality-of-life business. Theoretically, at least, the more money spent, the richer life in Maryland becomes.

Yet there's a certain symmetry in Mr. Mitchell's thinking. Since Mr. Schaefer took office in 1987, he's created three new cabinet departments and realigned others.

The Department of Housing and Community Development, for example, is a spin-off of the old Department of Economic and Community Development.

It has a proposed general fund budget of $20.7 million. Its duties primarily involve paperwork, and the housing department has little hands-on responsibility.

The Department of Agriculture, with general funds of $16.6 million, was never supposed to exist. An aide to former Gov. Marvin Mandel was instructed to kill the recommendation but instead pushed for its approval because he assumed he'd become the department's first secretary.

He didn't.

Before that department was created, the agriculture business in Maryland was regulated by the University of Maryland Board of Regents through the university's extension service.

Similarly, the Department of the Environment is a hybrid of agencies that were excised from the Departments of Health and Mental Hygiene and Natural Resources. It spends $29 million of Maryland taxpayers' money each year.

The Butta Commission recommends decentralizing the Department of Personnel, which has a general fund budget of $11.1 million.

So the bottom line is this: Mr. Schaefer's a believer in fragmented government.

He splits up and spins off so that parts of Maryland government become larger than the whole.

It's sad to say, but the jobs that the shrinking private businesses are eliminating are gone forever.

But it's a safe wager that the jobs government slashes during tough times will be back double-or-nothing as soon as times lighten up and the boodle begins flowing again.

Bigger is not necessarily better. It's merely bigger.

Frank A. DeFilippo writes fortnightly on Maryland politics.

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