Today, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal issued an executive order establishing a new Commission on Streamlining Government, a proactive step to address a looming fiscal crisis. Here's an excerpt:
SECTION 1: The Commission on Streamlining Government (hereafter Commission) is hereby established. Its mission is to examine each state department or agency’s constitutional and statutory functions, powers, duties and responsibilities to determine which of these functions, powers, duties and responsibilities can be (1) eliminated, (2) streamlined, (3) consolidated, (4) privatized, or (5) outsourced in an effort to reduce the size and cost of state government.
SECTION 2: The duties of the Commission shall include, but are not limited to, the following:
A. Review whether an activity provided by a state agency or entity should be eliminated, streamlined, consolidated, privatized, or outsourced to provide the same or greater type and quality of activity, function, program, or service that would result in cost savings or greater efficiency or effectiveness of service.
B. Recommend elimination, consolidation, privatization, or outsourcing of a state agency or entity, department, or function if a proposed elimination, consolidation, privatization, or outsourcing is demonstrated to provide a more cost efficient or more effective manner of providing a governmental service.
C. Review agency activities, functions, programs, and services to ensure they are not duplicative and are necessary, meeting or exceeding performance standards, and meeting the needs of Louisiana citizens.
D. Evaluate the operation of public institutions and services to determine if, given the evolution of available alternative resources, these services may be provided in a more cost-effective manner without impacting the quality or availability of needed services.
E. Recommend standards, processes, and guidelines for the Commission and state agencies to use in order to review and evaluate government activities to eliminate, streamline, consolidate, privatize, or outsource.
As I mentioned last week, the new commission is part of a larger, ambitious budget and reform package that also includes civil service reform and more discretion to adjust state spending in certain categories. As the "whereas" section of the executive order demonstrates, Gov. Jindal is clearly seeing the fiscal handwriting on the wall in coming years, with projected deficits on the horizon.
The key to the commission's success will be the willingness of policymakers to actually implement its recommendations. This may sound simplistic, but as California's experience with the California Performance Review demonstrates, history is littered with commissions whose serious policy recommendations have been destined for bookshelves, not action.
For the sake of fiscal sustainability in Louisiana government, let's hope that state legislators can eschew political inertia and immediate parochial interests and keep their eyes on the looming budget crisis. If they act now, they can take proactive steps to avert it. And thanks to Gov. Jindal, they've now got a valuable new tool to assist that process.
And policymakers can expect that the bigger-government-is-better-government crowd are going to complain that the sky will fall at the first mention of privatization. They should get used to it now, and to steal a phrase from Margaret Thatcher, "don't go wobbly." Government is not a jobs program; it's there to facilitate service delivery. But as former New York Governor Mario Cuomo once said, "It is not a government's obligation to provide services, but to see that they are provided." Policymakers should take that to heart.
Gov. Jindal's new commission is a welcome development on the reform front, especially as other states turn to an unfortunate "first resort" of tax hikes. Taxpayers should demand that policymakers do a serious review of what services are actually necessary and the most effective and efficient way of delivering them. They bear the brunt when weak-kneed pols throw good money after bad into unexamined programs and wasteful spending.
That's what the "Yellow Pages Test" is all about, and Gov. Jindal should be commended for applying it. Other governors should take note.