February 13, 2009 in City

Our View: Gregoire will need support on government reform


Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire is not the first politician to pledge she will carve bureaucracy down to size. The hard granite of government, however, has been dulling the chisels of determined reformers for decades. It remains mountainous.

In December the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee released an inventory of 470 boards and commissions, from the University of Washington Board of Regents to the Midwifery Advisory Committee. And that’s just in the executive branch. Legislative and judicial boards and commissions weren’t tallied, nor were those task forces and blue ribbon commissions sometimes created on a temporary basis.

Still, says the audit committee, the list “should not be considered exhaustive.”

Containing government growth, then, will be daunting, but that’s only one facet of a three-pronged government-reform plan announced by Gregoire this week. She’s also counting on modernized methods to make government services such as renewing a driver’s license faster, more convenient and cheaper.

And she wants to streamline government operations by realigning certain agencies.

It’s an ambitious plan, and the governor will need encouragement as she butts heads with unions and the constituencies that advocated creation of some of the structures Gregoire wants to revise, if not eliminate.

But the governor’s plan, while laudable, is not flawless.

Combining agencies and centralizing program administration can achieve efficiency – but those methods can backfire, too. A centralized child-abuse reporting hot line was so unsuccessful in Eastern Washington a few years ago that it was quickly dropped.

The governor’s plan needs to be scrutinized for and cleansed of unintended consequences.

At the same time, she needs to be open to suggestions for an even bolder agenda. Promising opportunities may lie in turning certain state activities – liquor sales and highway engineering, for example – over to private-sector contractors.

While the reform plan has been presented as designed mostly to improve service, it also provides desperately needed opportunities to economize.

There is more to be applauded than criticized in the governor’s overall proposal, and her administration has wisely conceded the need for fine-tuning. Gregoire says the work is just beginning and will require attention for at least the rest of her term. And so it should, with unabated energy.

It would be a mistake to count on miracles, but a bigger one to pass up the opportunity.

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email