Are you still with me? It’s a tough sell, not least because it inflames few passions (usually only those of a few bureaucrats and their captive constituencies) and doesn’t involve campaign contributions or big lobbying contracts.
Government reform can come in big packages or small. The former often fails because of sheer weight or obstinacy of the opposition. Smaller reforms may not get much notice, but can often serve as platforms for more efficiency, accountability and better service.
Agency reorganization is a small reform with good payoffs in aligning old agencies with a dynamic society, changing constituencies and new technologies. It gives senior managers and political appointees a pretext to shake up institutions and focus on service delivery – not a small need as government payrolls are squeezed and staff spread more thinly.
Therefore it is worth noting that yesterday Governor Brown’s far-reaching reorganization proposal was given a unanimous thumbs up by the Little Hoover Commission, California’s official, nonpartisan citizen’s oversight commission (of which I am a member). Legislative members of the Commission did not vote.
State law requires the Governor to submit a proposed reorganization to the Commission for “study and recommendation” prior to consideration by the Legislature. A reorganization takes effect within 60 days of a Governor submitting it to the Legislature, unless one house of the Legislature votes to reject it.
We called Governor Brown’s reorganization plan “an important and essential first step toward a larger restructuring of California state government to make it more effective, efficient and transparent by improving coordination and communication between departments.”
The Commission noted that several years of short-term budget fixes have failed to address the state’s fundamental need to change the way it operates. We found that the plan creates the clarity necessary to begin this process by, among other things,
- Reducing the total number of state agencies to 10 from 12 by eliminating two agencies.
- Reorganizing disparate departments into three new agencies that can better focus on specific missions. It brings together similar departments into a new Transportation Agency, Business and Consumer Services Agency and Government Operations Agency.
- Completing the task, recommended by the Commission in 2010, of consolidating state economic development functions into a Governor’s Office of Economic Development.
- Consolidating departments within the Department of Consumer Affairs and creating a new Department of Business Oversight by combining the Department of Corporations and the Department of Financial Institutions.
To some, this may seem like so much rearranging of deck chairs; to others, this could be a distraction from the important government finance and pension/regulatory/tax/etc. reform battles. I disagree.
What makes this effort different, and worth celebrating, is that it will actually get done, and when in place, can be measured for success and the Administration held accountable for results. This is what makes this “small” reform different – and better – from sweeping, pie-in-the-sky visions.
Follow Loren on Twitter: @KayeLoren