by Pete Didisheim, NRCM senior director of advocacy
Senator Rosen, Representative Flood, Sen. Thomas, Representative Collins and distinguished members of the Joint Select Committee on Appropriations and Financial Affairs and the Joint Committee on State and Local Government. My name is Pete Didisheim. I am the Advocacy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, and I appreciate this opportunity to provide testimony on portions of the Second Supplemental Budget dealing with dismantlement of the State Planning Office and creation of the Office of Management and Budget.
Over the past year, I have closely followed the process through which the State Planning Office has been slowly and deliberately torn down, in preparation for its disbursement to other parts of State government. And I have to say that it has been a sad process to watch. Excellent staff with valuable skills and institutional knowledge have fled SPO as the Part FF process has played out. Revolving leadership at SPO has shown little interest in utilizing staff, or trusting them to serve the public interest. Staff morale has been extremely low as an organization that was running well has been attacked and dismantled. And now we appear to be in the final stages. Dave Emery has worked hard to execute his charge, and I appreciate his efforts to address some of the issues raised along the way, but I still strongly object to the assignment that he was givenâwhich now is reflected in Parts DD through NN of the Second Supplemental.
I’m not here to defend all aspects of the State Planning Office as it was before this dismantlement process was initiated. But I do strongly believe that a number of important programs are going to be damaged as a result of this exercise. And it has never been particularly clear to me why.
The driving purpose, as explained by the Governor’s representatives, has been to create a new Office of Policy and Management. Yet the mission of the new OPM remains vague, and powers being requested for the office seem extraordinary. As described in Part DD, Chapter 310 of the Supplemental Appropriations bill, OPM would be an investigative entity primarily charged with the mission of creating efficiencies and streamlining operations of State Government.
OPM appears to be an Executive Branch version of OPEGA (Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability), but without the design features that provide OPEGA with accountability, independence, objectivity, and a non-partisan approach. As described in Sec. DD-21, and also on page 10 of the Part FF Report, OPM will be charged with finding at least $1 million in budget savings each year. The Part FF report explains that “OPM will be essentially self-funded in the out years through a statutory requirement that it identify at least $1 million a year in savings.”
This cost-cutting claim raises a number of issues in terms of how the OPM would be able to claim budgetary credit for these savings, which would be worked out through the budget process. But I’m more concerned about the powers that the OPM would be given to pursue these savings.
§3100 9. Provides broad subpoena power that we believe is inappropriate. The OPM is not required to apply to Superior Court for approval of the subpoena. Rather, the court only has an enforcement role of subpoenas that can be issued to compel witnesses and documents from anyone in the public or private sector. The SPO did not have powers like this; nor does OPEGA. When paired with OPM’s investigative mission, this appears to us to be an inappropriate level of power.
§3105: Heavy-handed powers to command other agencies. “All departments, agencies, authorities, boards, commissions and other instrumentalities of the State shall, at the director’s request, assist the office in the gathering of information, reports and data which relate to the performance of the duties of the office.
§3105: Unbridled authority to appropriate staff from other agencies. “At the request of the director a state agency mustâ¦assign qualified personnel to the office for a period of up to six months to assist the office in the performance of its duties.”
I should also note that during the Part FF study process, the Governor’s representative explained that the OPM would have a Secret Shopper program â which presumably would involve OPM staff literally monitoring the performance of other state agency employees without their knowledge. If that is what is envisioned, it seems like a recipe for distrust and suspicion throughout state government. And because OPM would have a $1 million annual budget to create each year, this office could create a sense of fear among state employees that would harm productivity, collaboration, and partnership. This is a remarkable proposal from the Governor’s Office that warrants careful review. The result would be a “Pac Man” organization equipped with extraordinary powers to cannibalize other agencies in order to keep itself operating.
In addition to concerns about OPM, we also believe that relocating SPO’s land use planning team to the Department of Conservation would be a mistake. We support creation of a stand-alone State Land Use and Planning Office, which we believe would be able to provide municipalities and the state with better, integrated technical assistance for economic development and sound land use planning than if this capacity is placed at the Department of Conservation.
We also are concerned with repeal of the Land and Water Resources Council, as proposed by Sec. EE-2. The Land and Water Resources Council over the years has served as an extremely valuable forum for coordination and policy development across the various natural resource agencies, coordinating at the commissioner and division director levels. The Council has worked on hydropower relicensing, mercury pollution, downtown development, energy policy, and a host of other issues. I’ve attached the statutory language for the Land and Water Resources Council to this testimony, and would urge that it be retained and assigned to an independent land use planning.
Overall, we believe this effort to dismantle and distribute the parts of the State Planning Office is unfortunate and a mistake. We understand that the Executive Branch has the prerogative to organize as it sees fit. However, we do hope that the Appropriations Committee provides careful review of the OPM, the best strategy for the state to retain a strong statewide planning capacity, and a continued mechanism for policy coordination and development among the natural resource agencies. I appreciate this opportunity to testify and would be glad to answer any questions that you may have.
LePage proposes âsecret shoppers’s agency to measure performance
By Mal Leary, Capitol News Service
Posted Sept. 04, 2011, at 1:07 p.m.
AUGUSTA, Maine â Gov. Paul LePage will propose creation of a new state agency within his office in the second session of the legislature. The Office of Policy and Management will take some of the existing planning office functions and add new ones to assure programs are being managed efficiently.
“Whether it is an inspector general, or an office of management and budget, which is what we are trying to implement now, we are going down that path,” LePage said last month. “We need that type of office.”
He said when he was manager of Marden’s they used “secret shoppers” to measure employee performance and to check on whether stores were implementing policies. The shoppers were company employees that posed as shoppers and developed valuable data for company management.
“We need that in state government, “he said. ” We need to know what is really happening.”
Jonathan Nass, a senior policy adviserto LePage, is working on the details of the proposal that will go to the legislature in January. He said the new agency will focus on government policies and the management of the programs to implement those policies, but will not include the budget function which will remain in the Department of Finance and Administrative Services.
“One example might be this zero-based budgeting,” he said, “that is on a separate track but that is the type of activity where a relatively small group of professionals could assist governmentwide and make sure there is consistency and that we are really trying to manage government in a way that makes it efficient.”
Nass said the governor strongly believes he needs a better tool to assess the way various programs are being managed, both within agencies and those programs and policies that transcend a single agency. He said unlike the legislature’s Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, the new office would look at programs in a more systematic way, and not “the issue of the day” that OPEGA probes.
Nass said an example of that more systematic look might be a review of all the various groups and associations that state agencies are members.
“We are not sure we have a handle on how many of these we belong to,” he said. “We could start with identifying all of them and then ask should we belong to them. What are we getting for being a member of a particular group?”
Nass said an inspector general type of function is needed in an organization with thousands of workers and hundreds of managers in programs providing a wide range of services and functions.
“Too often, under management, mid-level management, are going to report up good news,” he said. “This is a way for the governor to connect directly with the front lines of government and do it in a way that you are going to get an honest and first hand account of how government is actually working.”
Nass said he had met with members of a working group looking at the current state planning office and how to re-allocate its functions to other agencies and focus on its core responsibilities. He also spoke with members of the legislature’s State and Local Government Committee about the governor’s vision of a new office.
“I think we are very interested in looking at what the Governor proposes and how it would work,” said Sen. Doug Thomas, R-Ripley, the co-chairman of the committee. “I can see many programs through out all of government that I would like to see looked at.”
He said many state officials have complained to him about the Office of Information Technology that oversees the state’s various computer systems. He said several have complained about the high cost of equipment and services.
“They want to know why a computer costs so much when they can get it cheaper at Staples,” he said.
Thomas said he is not ready to endorse any new agency in government, but he is willing to consider the legislation in January. That is also the position of House Minority Leader Emily Cain, D-Orono.
“I think we should carefully look at all proposals,” she said, “but we don’t have a proposal yet, we have an idea. I look forward to the details when the governor submits this to the next session.”
Nass said legislation is in the drafting state and has not yet been submitted to the governor for his approval.