“Reform Commission” Underwhelms with Suggestions


    Even though all we hear about that state reform commission that Bob McDonnell set up is about his love affair with tripling retail liquor outlets in Virginia and selling off the state wholesale booze operation to the people who donated $350,000 to his gubernatorial campaign, the commission has made a few other recommendations. However, I couldn’t see how they would save much money or reform much of anything.

    For example, the commission voted unanimously to recommend a switch to a four-day, 10-hour-per-day schedule for many state employees, noting that money could be saved in energy costs and building maintenance. At present, only Utah has instituted a four-day work week. That change did not result in the savings the Republican governor promised. Instead of the $3 million he talked about, the program only produced $502,000 in its first year, but it did give a boost to the morale of the employees. Hey, it would boost my morale if I were a state employee!

    One recommendation I have absolutely no problem with relates to the fact that our state evidently doesn’t know how much property or how many buildings it owns or what the the occupancy rates are for those  properties. The recommended inventory actually might uncover a way to support fewer state buildings and allow higher occupancy rates in remaining buildings.

    Several of the other commission recommendations might cause real problems.

    The commission wants the state to eliminate its 50 toll-free numbers, saying that cell phone usage has made them obsolete. That might be true if everyone had a cell phone. How about the elderly? How about the poor who can’t afford a monthly cell phone contract? Is it really necessary to make it harder for some citizens to reach their state government in order to save a tiny bit of money?

    I couldn’t even figure out exactly how the reform commission arrived at its recommendation to eliminate 25 percent of state boards and commissions to avoid duplication. If it can’t say how or why they need to be eliminated, how can it possible know that one-fourth are useless?

    One idea would actually cost money to implement, the idea of “one-stop-shops,” or government service centers where citizens could go to transact all sorts of business with the state. Sounds great, huh? Well, that idea is pretty far-fetched in an era when the state shortchanges its pension system to create a phony budget “surplus” and when the outsourced Northrup Grumman centralized computer system recently showed what a mess that is.

    I have one concern about the recommendation that several inspector-general positions in state government be consolidated into one central, independent agency. Isn’t it easier for one inspector-general agency to be corrupted and controlled? Sometimes, centralization is not the best policy.

    The commission also recommended that it should meet periodically to study regionalism, “with an eye to using a carrot-and-stick approach to encourage more regional cooperation.” Good luck with that.  

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