Steinberg advocates eliminating Department of Personnel CAMPAIGN 1994 -- GOVERNOR

June 07, 1994|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Sun Staff Writer

Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg, trying to rev up his stalled campaign for governor, portrayed himself yesterday as a candidate who wants to shrink state government, starting with the elimination of the Department of Personnel.

The Democrat from Pikesville said abolition of the 175 jobs in the department would eliminate an unneeded layer of bureaucracy and save taxpayers $100 million over the next 10 years. He conceded that he would transfer some personnel functions to the state budget department but said the savings could still be achieved.

The suddenly aggressive Mr. Steinberg promised that this was just the first in a series of cost-cutting and revenue-producing ideas that he will outline in coming weeks. And he said those proposals would distinguish him from his chief Democratic rival, Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening.

Mr. Steinberg criticized Mr. Glendening -- as other Democrats in the race have been doing for several weeks -- for making too many promises to too many interest groups, promises Mr. Steinberg said the state cannot afford to keep.

He referred to Mr. Glendening as "a backward looking, tax-and-spend machine politician," while characterizing himself as "a forward looking, experienced candidate who is not afraid to do what needs to be done."

A spokesman for Mr. Glendening later countered that the three-term county executive had made a similar proposal to reorganize the Department of Personnel at least a year ago. Mr. Glendening's campaign booklet, released last month, calls for streamlining and modernizing the personnel system and generally reorganizing state government, though it does not offer specifics.

As for Mr. Steinberg's remarks about Mr. Glendening, Glendening spokesman David Seldin said, "Frankly, we're disappointed that the lieutenant governor feels he has to engage in this sort of desperate, negative, personal attack. I think voters are tired of that kind of politics as usual." Mr. Seldin also said that Mr. Steinberg, as president of the state Senate and then lieutenant governor for the past eight years, must share the blame for any problems in Maryland government.

Others running for the Democratic nomination in the Sept. 13 primary include state Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski of Baltimore and state Sen. Mary H. Boergers of Montgomery County.

In calling for elimination of the personnel department -- which has a budget this year of roughly $10 million -- Mr. Steinberg relied on a 1992 study by KPMG Peat Marwick done on behalf of the "Butta Commission," a gubernatorial task force on efficiency in government.

The report found numerous problems with the current personnel system and recommended many changes, but it stopped short of suggesting that the department be abolished.

Mr. Steinberg, however, said the department is doing some jobs that also are performed by personnel officers within other state agencies. "We have redundancy and duplication," he said.

Yesterday, the current secretary of personnel, one of his predecessors, and a state lawmaker who chairs a subcommittee on personnel matters all said they thought eliminating the personnel department was a bad idea.

Personnel Secretary Joseph Adler, whose job, of course, would be eliminated by Mr. Steinberg's proposal, said the department performs many centralized functions that could not or should not be scattered among other agencies.

For example, Mr. Adler said, the department oversees the implementation of federal laws regarding fair employment practices, family medical leave and other issues.

He said the department also recruits and tests all clerical help, xTC and it classifies positions to make sure, among other things, that workers in different agencies of government are fairly compensated.

Mr. Adler called it "easy political rhetoric" to propose getting rid of his agency, but said experts such as Peat Marwick have studied the idea and not recommended it.

John F. X. O'Brien, personnel secretary under Gov. Harry R. Hughes and now executive director of a state employees union, said, "It sounds like you're saving money. But it is a bad idea that simply costs you money and puts all your employees in different categories with different rules and regulations."

State Del. Thomas E. Dewberry, a Baltimore County Democrat who chairs a House Appropriations subcommittee on personnel issues, said the legislature considered the idea two years ago and rejected it.

"My God, we have 70,000 state employees who have various and different needs," he said.

"It is certainly something that deserves a Cabinet-level position."

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