Editor’s note: The following commentary appeared on CenterMaryland.org on May 24, 2016.
By Donald C. Fry
Governor Larry Hogan’s recent decision to establish a new commission in the executive branch to update, reorganize and streamline state government bureaucracy was a very good call indeed.
The governor should be applauded for recognizing the importance of taking a hard look at the government’s existing structure and operations, and exploring possible ways to improve efficiency and customer service.
Governor Hogan was swept into office on a tide of voters who agreed with his calls for change. Primarily, those calls were focused on getting a handle on the size and cost of state government. Laudably, he is now making good on his promise to move the needle here.
As a report by the Regulatory Reform Commission created by Governor Hogan notes, Maryland state government is “convoluted and lacks continuity.”
There are 20 executive branch cabinet departments, 70 independent agencies and 550 commissions and boards. Full and part-time state employees numbered more than 46,000 in Fiscal Year 2015, according to a Maryland Department of Budget and Management report.
With its payroll, size and complexity, state bureaucracy is set in its ways.
And the structure and strategic thinking about state government – how it should serve customers from businesses looking to incorporate to motorists needing to replace a lost driver’s license – probably hasn’t changed much year to year.
Some claim that the last time a Maryland governor reorganized and improved state government was Marvin Mandel in the 1970s. Former Governor Mandel dramatically reorganized and restructured state government and his efforts have survived the test of time.
Meanwhile, other Maryland governors have taken steps to improve government efficiency or its delivery of services. Former Governor Martin O’Malley launched StateStat in 2007. The performance management system analyzed data from state departments and identified areas that needed addressing to improve spending or services. And former Governor William Donald Schaefer, while well known for championing big projects like Camden Yards, was always pushing state departments to be responsive and to improve constituent services. Former Governor Robert Ehrlich even tapped Governor Mandel to head a commission to review and make recommendations to reform the state’s bureaucracy.
But Governor Hogan’s creation of a commission to conduct a top to bottom review of state bureaucracy may turn out to exceed previous efforts.
Given the rapid changes in technology alone, there are surely new ways of providing state services or managing workforces that are more efficient or improve customer service.
The governor should also be applauded for the wise selection of former State Senator Robert Neall for this tough task.
Let’s get the full disclosure out of the way.
I’ve known Bobby Neall for more than 20 years as both a former colleague and friend. We served together in the Maryland General Assembly and on the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee where I was fortunate to see his sharp mind at work. As has been noted in numerous articles since Governor Hogan announced the formation of the commission, he possesses an extraordinary knowledge of the state budget and is skilled at sizing up the financial, organizational, and operational nuances and inefficiencies of large, complex systems. His work as a legislator, County Executive of Anne Arundel County, and leading a large private sector business operation uniquely qualify him for this challenging task.
The business community should see this as an opportunity to provide assistance and to be a partner.
After all, the businesses community has a lot of experience and solutions to offer when it comes to the task of reorganizing, streamlining and modernizing complex systems. They’ve done – and do it – on a regular basis as competition, markets and customers or their needs change.
Along with new ideas to improve efficiency, for years the business community has been proposing steps to improve state government. Some of these are outlined in A Compact for Competiveness, a report published in 2013 by the Greater Baltimore Committee.
The report highlights several areas that would address the disconnect that sometimes exists between the business community and state government, and may help the governor’s new commission. These include:
- Regulatory reform that streamlines state processes and enforcement.
- Policies and processes that nurture innovation and entrepreneurship, such as the growing IT and cyber industries.
- Targeted and outcome-driven state programs to promote economic development.
- Reductions in the tax burden on businesses.
This is not to say that considerations for business should be the highest priority as the governor’s new commission moves forward.
But by establishing the commission and putting Neall in the quarterback’s seat, the governor has set the stage for a golden opportunity to revamp Maryland’s government.
Governor Hogan, with his own business background, has created the opportunity to reform state government, to adapt its agencies to address the operational needs not of today but of the future, and has entrusted the role to someone with a reputation of getting the job done. That’s a great combination. Although we don’t know what the recommendations will be or whether the governor accepts all the recommendations, the prospects are positive that Marylanders are likely to benefit from a fresh look at government operations and improved efficiency, customer service and fiscal management.
Donald C. Fry is the President and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. He is a regular contributor to Center Maryland.