It is a very old story and I have heard it repeated many times. It seems that legislators cannot hold a budget hearing or meet with representatives of state government agencies without being subjected to a long and nuanced description of the agency’s great financial needs.
Government agencies don’t have to compete for business in the free market. They exist regardless of the quality of service they provide.
Unlike the private businessman who knows he must drive down costs and improve the quality of his product in order to earn more money, the government official mostly earns money simply by convincing voters and policymakers to give it to him.
Those in the arena of public policy are constantly subjected to the unending refrain of, “Give us more money or all types of armageddon-type scenarios will inevitably occur.”
Too often, the weak-minded policy maker acquiesces and accepts the overstated demands at face value.
Worse, many times he doesn’t just acquiesce, but actually becomes a co-opted agent for the very bureaucracy to which he was commissioned by the people of Oklahoma to be the check and balance.
Those policy makers who take their responsibility seriously and don’t accept the claims of the bureaucrats at face value know that many millions of dollars are wasted by government every year.
It seems that significant waste is found almost every time a truly independent authority investigates the actual spending practices of these agencies.
Over the years, I have seen report after report and audit after audit expose this waste and point to potential spendings.
Unfortunately, state government is so large and spending is so great that legislative purview (already quite minimalistic) has only reached a small subset of overall spend.
Even with those reports and audits pointing to the waste, modernization efforts frequently run up against the political power of bureaucrats who have worked the system to the point that they can use taxpayer dollars to finance an army of lobbyists who are extremely effective at protecting those bureaucracies from reforms.
All too often, the audits and savings recommendations are hidden and do not reach the public conscience.
I will always remember that the genesis of our House government modernization efforts grew from the brave actions of a state government official who admitted to the existence of one of these dramatic savings recommendations.
It is difficult for us to know how many savings opportunities fail to receive legislative purview; however, I firmly believe that these types of recommendations are much more likely to receive serious consideration if the high-level bureaucrats become convinced they won’t get bailed out with more of your tax money.
As long as the Governor and legislative leaders continue to request more of your tax dollars, state officials will sense that they have a free hand to ignore savings opportunities.
It is imperative for leaders to stop focusing on tax hikes, return their focus to doing the work of the people, and make state government more efficient.