State Government Can -- and Must -- Be Made More Efficient

February 07, 1993|By JAMES B. MOORHEAD

Last Sunday's Super Bowl wasn't decided entirely by the players on the field. Or even by the coaches on the sidelines. Instead, it's likely some of the Cowboys' success was due to unseen Dallas coaches peering through binoculars who were perched high above the field, able to see the entire field and the set-up of both teams. Throughout the game, they talked by phone to the sideline coaches and key players, making formation adjustments and recommending plays.

Recently a group of citizens, myself included, got a chance to play a similar role for the state of Maryland. Called the Governor's Commission on Efficiency and Economy in Government (better known as the Butta Commission), our mission was to study Maryland government and recommend ways to streamline it, to save money and to help put the state on a sound long-term financial footing.

Like the coaches sitting high above the field, we took a top-down look at Maryland government. We muscled through department budgets. We interviewed department heads and their key staff. We inspected state facilities across Maryland, And over a two-year period we published three reports about how to improve Maryland government.

This opportunity to break behind the walls of state government left me troubled, yet hopeful.

I'm troubled because our state government remains too slow to change and too willing to do today what it did yesterday without asking why. Yet I'm hopeful because there are a number of innovative, cost saving measures we can initiate that will revitalize state government in the 1990s. Just as many businesses have had to reorganize to meet the challenges of a changing world, a revamping of the public sector is now required.

Let me first highlight some of the troubling aspects of state government that we found during our study and the recommendations that the commission made to address them.

* Disconnected government. It is no surprise, in a government with 15 principal departments and more than 73,000 employees, that the head often doesn't know what the tail is doing.

Nowhere was this more apparent than in the state's handling of its substantial real estate assets (valued in excess of $7 billion). First, the state doesn't know what it has. There is no inventory that describes the land the state owns or leases, the present use, its market value, and so on. Second, the state has no clear policy for managing and disposing of its property.

For example, let's look at the Rosewood Center, which is a state-run residential facility for the developmentally disabled, located at Owings Mills in Baltimore County. The center provides care, education and training to developmentally disabled citizens. The center sits on 683 acres of land, which has an estimated value of $100 million.

Rosewood used to have more than 3,000 patients living at the facility. Because Maryland has returned many of the patients to the community, buildings remain empty but require maintenance and security, while the grounds require upkeep. The unused land could have tremendous development value. But it appears Rosewood has undercut the land's potential by parceling out a lot of the unused property to various state and local agencies.

To improve the state's handling of its real estate, the commission recommended that Maryland create a new real property assets unit, with potential to make money which would more than offset its costs.

* Uncontrolled appetite. The "more-is-better, bigger-is-better" approach permeates state government. A classic example is the state printing operations. In the last fiscal year, state agencies (excluding higher education) spent $21 million in printing and copying. They operated 18 print shops and two duplicating centers, 14 in Baltimore alone. The commission found that in the absence of any centralized control, new, unnecessary print shops sprouted. As a result, most of these shops have over 65 percent unused capacity. The commission recommended, among other things, that the state consider consolidating some of these underutilized print shops.

* Slow government. The state takes almost three times as long as the private sector to recruit and hire its employees. It is true that the state hiring process is slowed down somewhat by the need to follow civil service requirements. Even so, the state hiring process is inordinately slow and means that the state loses top applicants, who get scooped up by companies while the state is still shuffling paperwork. To speed up the process, the commission recommended that the state push down hiring to the lowest appropriate level and rely on other criteria in addition to civil service tests results.

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