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Government is Not Supposed to be Efficient

SPECIAL POST BY JOHN M. BERNARD

Government in this country is in crisis. After rising for a long period, tax revenues in many states have painfully declined the past few years as the economy floundered.

A constitutional lawyer told me one day after hearing me talk about governmental waste, “Government was never designed to be efficient.” He pointed out that nowhere in the U.S. Constitution nor in any documented expectation of the founding fathers was efficiency ever addressed.

Government’s primary focus has been to ensure the protection of the nation, maintain public safety, care for the poor and defenseless, guard human rights and free speech, protect its people from unethical businesses, and educate the masses…the list goes on and on. Efficient execution of these responsibilities was not a consideration and that fact plays a significant part in the amount of waste that exists today in government.

Because our governing system focuses on doing the right thing first and puts cost a distant second, very tight tax dollars puts government at a crossroads. In the case of Oregon, my home state, the situation is complicated by the fact that Oregon’s Legislature passed over 800 laws in each of its past two sessions. This generated an estimated 50,000 pages of new regulation that added to the responsibilities of state agencies already suffering from plummeting budgets and horrendous waste.

However, thanks to the courage of a handful of agency heads in Oregon, members of the Executive Branch in one state have stepped up to the reality that business as usual in state government is a recipe for disaster. Today my company is helping the leadership teams of Oregon’s largest agencies deal with the legacy of inefficiency including Oregon Youth Authority, Department of Environmental Quality, Oregon Health Authority, Department of Human Services, Oregon Lottery and Oregon’s Public Employees Retirement System.

Our work in Oregon led to an invitation from Washington State. Aaron Howard, President and CEO of Mass Ingenuity, and I had the honor of testifying before the Washington State Senate Ways and Means Committee. They had learned about the nine Oregon agencies we are working with to install the NOW Management System. They were interested in our thoughts about what Washington State could do to improve government effectiveness.

I believe our fate as a nation lies in our ability to effectively address our most complex challenges. Clearly, governing efficiently is one of the most complex challenges that we must immediately address.

We are moving forward with our work in Oregon, and will soon be starting in other states. As our work expands, I know the challenge will be not only to drive healthy and constructive accountability and transparency in the Executive Branch, but to also look at government as a system.

For government to work as a system, all three branches must find ways to collaborate without doing harm to the balance of power. At the very least, this collaboration must begin with lawmakers owning their role in streamlining government. I am not talking about driving focused program cuts or micro-managing agency budgets, I am talking about working with agency leadership and the governor to clean up the piles of laws already on the books that burden government with layer upon layer of irrational complexity and contradiction. In Oregon for the State to lease an office building for one of its agencies involves about 280 steps and takes 12 months to complete. The tangle of laws is simply irrational.

Yes, these are challenging times, and to succeed as a nation we must face the challenges collaboratively.

Thanks to the courageous Oregon leaders who understand this challenge and have allowed us to be part of the solution. Thanks to the Washington State Senate for the opportunity to share our opinions about how to address these enormously challenging times in their state.

Good, efficient government is not only possible it’s essential.

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