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BILL CRAWFORD — New Year’s hope for government transparency and efficiency

BILL CRAWFORD

Conservatives regularly cite transparency and efficiency as goals to make government smaller and better. Too often, though, said conservatives do not deliver on these goals.

New conservative leadership in Mississippi may be about to change that.

In an op-ed piece, incoming Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann said he is taking steps to deliver on a campaign promise to increase transparency at the state capitol.

“In partnership with the Legislative Budget Office and Mississippi Public Broadcasting, we are working on piloting a program on the Senate side to webcast committee meetings in addition to floor debate,” Hosemann wrote.

Hmmm.

One might hope that committee chairmen, knowing their meetings will be televised, will hold real committee meetings on important bills rather than the farcical gatherings under the outgoing administration. That’s when committee chairmen would walk in, say here’s the bill, and call for a vote with no amendments or serious discussion.

You see transparency only works to improve government when citizens are able to see government at work, not when all is decided in the backroom in advance.

Kudos to Hosemann for his leadership on this.

In another op-ed piece, State Treasurer Shad White and Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration executive director Laura Jackson said it is time to consolidate backroom functions in government.

They want an Office of Shared Services to become law next year and focus on consolidating backroom functions for many of the smaller state agencies.

“The problem is that it can be inefficient for many of these entities to have their own independent, backroom offices,” they wrote saying many of the state’s 204 agencies, boards, and commissions house their own accounting departments, human resource services, information technology departments, payroll and travel services, and a host of other “backroom” subdivisions.

White and Jackson said that implementing a shared services would save taxpayers money, improve services, and lower the likelihood of fraud and theft. “Implementing a shared services arrangement would mean added oversight for these smaller boards since their administrative functions would all be housed under the same roof. Instead of monitoring 80 different boards or commissions, we might now only need to monitor 20.”

Hmmm.

One might hope that recommendations from the state’s top two financial control officials would move the needle on government efficiency. Yet, as we have learned from past efforts, many small agencies operate as little fiefdoms and have powerful godfathers to protect them in the legislature. Even Gov. Phil Bryant admitted he underestimated these agencies’ “political support system.”

That came after his call to terminate or consolidate many of these same boards and commissions was ignored. As was his call to consolidate “non-educational duties” in school districts. As was Gov. Haley Barbour’s call to consolidate backroom functions for community and junior colleges. And so on.

You see, it’s much easier to strangle government as a whole through budget cuts than it is to prune government through thoughtful reorganization. The problem with that, of course, is that you strangle the good and necessary along with the bad and unnecessary.

Kudos to White and Jackson for their leadership on this. As the Greenwood Commonwealth commented, “It just makes good business sense.”

A New Year’s hope is that other government officials and key legislators will get on board with Hosemann, White, and Jackson and finally deliver on transparency and prudent efficiency.

“Out in the open wisdom calls aloud, she raises her voice in the public square” — Proverbs 1:20.

» BILL CRAWFORD is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.

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