Government Efficiency by 2000?

April 24, 1994

Yes, indeed, that is the goal of a new high-powered commission set up this month by the Maryland General Assembly to suggest ways to downsize, privatize and rationalize the way government in Annapolis conducts its $13 billion-a-year business. This represents a modest step forward by the laggards in the legislature who for years have displayed an unwillingness to face up to the need for a dramatic reshaping of state government.

With a guaranteed budget of at least $600,000 a year, this Efficiency 2000 Commission won't have to go begging to business groups for survival money as happened with similar panels established by the governor -- but opposed by the legislature. The legislature's imprimatur also assures that the panel's recommendations won't be laughed off, as happened with the ill-fated Butta commission and the equally unsuccessful Linowes commission.

Concern is growing in Annapolis that state government is badly out of sync with the realities of the 1990s and beyond. Ways have to be found to cut government spending so it is more in line with the projected revenue stream. An efficiency commission is badly needed.

The panel's objectives are to determine how state agencies can be made more responsive to the public's requests for assistance but also how new technologies and new management structures can eliminate red tape and reduce costs. It will suggest which services ought to be shifted to the private sector. It will identify which programs and services should be either reduced in size or eliminated. It will list items of unnecessary duplication.

Additionally, the 25-member group will recommend changes in the state's personnel process so government managers are no longer hamstrung by archaic work rules and inane procedures that rob them of their ability to hire the best workers and fire the worst. Another goal: establishing agency performance goals, giving managers the flexibility to shift unused funds to new priorities and rewarding the top achievers.

These are the types of steps the Schaefer administration and the legislature should have adopted during the recession, when major downsizing was accomplished by many other governments across the country. It didn't happen in Maryland, though.

Perhaps the Efficiency 2000 Commission, with its legislative mandate, will have better luck. Its recommendations will be cheered by citizens anxious to prepare Maryland government for the challenges of the next century. But overcoming the opposition of powerful special interests and status-quo lawmakers will be a formidable challenge.

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