Cutting Won’t Fix Oregon, But There is a Solution

The following article was written by John Bernard, Chairman and CEO of Mass Ingenuity. The Social Ecosystem is a critical part of making things happen, both NOW and in the future. That’s why we are all working closely with John Moore as he guides the evolving Social Ecosystem. State government needs this system!

Oregon is broken, and if we don’t fix it, Oregon will be broke.

We cannot “cut” our way out of this. Yes, cuts are required, but cuts don’t solve the underlying problems we face and they only pretend to ward off the inevitable collapse. To solve the problem we must face three realities and address them—simultaneously and immediately.

REALITY ONE: Our legislative process does not work. Last session Oregon’s Legislature passed and the Governor signed 844 new laws. This added in excess of 25,000 pages of documents rained down on the state’s agencies to administer. Few of these laws eliminated or rationalized laws passed in previous sessions so the pile of regulations builds. No wonder the budget grows and the number of state employees has mushroomed.

REALITY TWO: Governmental agencies are full of waste, in no small part because of Reality One. There is no formal accountability to the citizens of this state other than the occasional dramatic and extremely absurd examples that end up on the front page of The Oregonian. What measures do the state use as a meaningful report card to its citizens.

REALITY THREE: Oregon does not serve its citizens, it serves special interest groups. In Salem it is commonly said among bureaucrats that it is far more dangerous to your career to anger the special interest groups than it is to anger your boss, the Governor.

Let me expose my biases before I share what I believe are the solutions. My company has begun in recent months working with two state agencies (Department of Administrative Services and the Oregon Youth Authority). We improve performance through the implementation of an integrated system of management. We change the focus and rules to help both public and private sector organizations speed fixing their problems. Typically we see gains in the 20-30 percent range within two to three years.

I am also a third generation Oregonian, married and have five children. I’m hoping this next generation will have a viable place to work and live, the undeniable beauty of Oregon aside.

So, what is the answer?

It begins with getting back to a state that is citizen focused and driven, not one driven by those organized better to demand attention. Leadership must step up and step in and clearly articulate and validate the needs of Oregonians, such obvious things as a good education, public safety, and care for the elderly and the disadvantaged. Once the focus in clear, the work beings:

  1. Each agency needs clear goals directly tied to what citizens need and expect from their state government.
  2. Agency goals must be translated into clear measures, with performance targets set, so government is accountable. Among these measures must be both the benefit to Oregonians and the costs associated with each goal.
  3. Performance on measures must be transparent and posted on line and in the media, so citizens can monitor them (at least quarterly) and give feedback on progress.
  4. Agency leaders must be then held publicly accountable for progress toward the targets. If they fail to move their agencies, leadership must be changed swiftly.
  5. State agencies must make clear what help they need from the Legislature to achieve the goals they have been given. They must understand their challenges and guide the legislation needed for a focused, clean and cost-effective delivery of changes needed to aggressively move toward our goals.
  6. Citizens must hold their legislators accountable to work with agency leadership to pass laws that help the state cost effectively achieve its goals and drive performance toward targets. Legislators must help to simplify the state’s laws and work collaboratively to reduce the incredible red tape caused by an unfocused, unaccountable Legislature which drives an unfocused, unaccountable state government.
  7. Special interest groups must be held in check to make sure their advocacy supports what Oregonians need from their government. In practical terms the clear goals of the state must trump the needs of any and all special interest groups.

Oregon has tried in the past what may appear to be some of these steps. Oregon Benchmarks look a lot like items 2 and 3. Unfortunately the accountability was disconnected from the agency structure. This didn’t and won’t work because accountability must be connected to authority for action, otherwise all people can do is point fingers.

I believe the key to all of this is that citizens NEEDS must trump all other needs.

Before I started working with the leadership teams of Department of Administrative Services and Oregon Youth Authority it was easy for me to fall in the trap of believing that bureaucrats care more about preserving their jobs than they do about Oregonians. I will tell you nothing could be further from the truth. Sure they are challenged as managers in these bizarrely complex and fast-paced times. But so is the private sector. But what’s unique about the agencies of state government is they get squeezed between a myopic legislative process and self-serving interest groups; it’s a debilitating combination. Until we break the cycle, state government will continue to need bigger budgets and more staff to deal more laws and more interests. Under the current system the needs of Oregonians are a distant third.

Our system of state government as it operates today is broken. Cutting won’t solve the root cause of a failing system. We have to put our house in order to get on a viable path to survivability.

Filed under: Government 2.0, Leadership Tagged: Budget, Government, Leadership, NOW
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