County Takes Step To Cut Red Tape

COMMENT

April 25, 1993|By KEVIN THOMAS

Ring around the rosie. A pocket full of posies. Ashes, ashes. We all fall down.

Now tell me, what does that mean?

I have never known and never hope to know (please, no letters). So instead I've decided to make something up. This was the nursery rhyme that popped into my head when I realized just how many steps a county government employee had to endure to purchase something as minor as a park bench.

Let's see. First an invoice would go to the head of the Parks and Recreation Department, after which it would go to the Budget Department, followed by a trip to the administration office, before winding its way through the Purchase Department and -- and this is where I stop to catch my breath -- landing in the Finance Department.

You may not see exactly why this circuitous purchasing process reminds me of a nursery rhyme. But you can certainly understand that both of these things represent nonsense and deserve the comparison.

Well, don't fret, county dwellers. Steps have been taken to cut back on the mindless paper pushing I've described.

Thanks to Raquel Sanudo, Howard County's chief administrator, and a group called the Total Quality Management Committee on Purchasing, county officials have streamlined the process to cut out some of the superfluous signatures required before anything can be bought in the county.

Now the process requires three signatures instead of five. Administration and purchasing are no longer in the loop on this one.

County officials decided that those two signatures weren't necessary, so long as Budget and Finance were making sure the money was there to buy the item. If you think that the number of desks that a purchase request crossed was a good measure of frugality, it wasn't.

This may seem like minor stuff to some, but, in fact, the streamlining eliminates an incredible 4,000-plus signatures a year. Not to mention the time and paper that's wasted on perfunctory signings.

"It was unnecessary," said Ms. Sanudo succinctly. "If the order was placed and Finance signed off on it and Budget signed off on it, what was the purpose of adding these other steps?"

Of course there was no purpose, other than the fact that old traditions die hard. The problem is that old traditions also have a way of taking twice as long as necessary, frustrating everyone involved, including Howard County's administrators and residents.

And isn't foot-dragging one of the most common complaints heard about government?

Of course, some delays are expected -- and even necessary -- in bureaucracies. It gives people time to second- and even third-guess themselves. Sometimes it takes that long to figure out that what seemed like a good idea might be cause for getting someone fired.

But when it comes to buying a pencil or a park bench or a ream of paper, just do it for heaven's sake!

For those worry-warts out there, county officials have built in their requisite safeguards. Periodic audits will be conducted to make sure everything stays on track. And the entire effort will be reviewed after a year.

For now, say hurrah to the county for trying to build in some efficiency for a change.

Otherwise, we'd all be chanting nursery rhymes as the government churns out more unneeded paper work in too many directions to imagine.

The next step in streamlining should focus on cutting back on long titles for various groups.

Total Quality Management Committee on Purchasing?

Kevin Thomas is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Howard County.

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