Size matters in government, too

The New Mexico Economic Development Department employs fewer than 100 people and has a pretty simple business model: it promotes economic development.

The New Mexico Health Department employs well over 3,000 people. It operates eight residential medical facilities, including hospitals and nursing homes, has about 45 field offices and runs an alphabet soup of programs dealing with public health, nutrition, prevention of diseases, mitigation of bad behavior such as addiction, and more.

The Tourism Department has fewer than 100 employees to market New Mexico as a tourism destination, coordinating what might otherwise be less effective marketing by separate communities and businesses.

The Children, Youth and Families Department employs close to 2,000 people. It is the corrections agency for underage offenders and at-risk youth, operates several residential facilities including — according to comments from those who have been inside — scary places housing extremely scary teenagers.  Among its other programs are a few that look suspiciously similar to programs of the Health Department or the Human Services Department.

You want to save money in state government? Don’t consolidate the small agencies. Break up the big ones.

Several agencies are sized between 100 and 1,000 employees, among them:  Environment, Energy and Minerals; Public Safety; Workforce Solutions; State Engineer; and Workers’ Compensation. Whether they are currently well managed or not, these agencies are of manageable size.

If very small agencies (like Economic Development and Tourism) are combined, administrative costs could be saved. Otherwise, it’s hard to see how the state could save anything by slamming agencies together. Instead, combining forces the bureaucracy to grow. The cabinet secretary can’t possibly know what’s going on in the far flung outposts unless he or she has a regiment of deputies whose job is to find out what the heck is going on out there, report back to the boss, transmit the boss’s orders, then go back out to the boonies and find out why those orders won’t work.

In a smaller agency, the secretary might speak directly to employees and find out that his brilliant, brand new management concept has been done three previous times under three previous secretaries and didn’t work, for reasons that could be enumerated by anyone with institutional memory, which will not include the aforesaid deputies.

The boonies, you understand, include not only the Maxwell and Pie Town field offices but work stations 20 feet from the secretary’s office. In New Mexico state government, commonly, rank and file employees are told very little about what other employees do. Employees are not encouraged to talk to each other across bureau boundaries, or to make recommendations outside their own narrow specialization. This is logical for an institution in which training for rank and file employees to develop expertise in their subject area barely exists. (Note the word “expertise.” I don’t mean how to use spreadsheets.)

To save money in state government, somebody has to look in detail at specific programs and figure out what can be reduced or eliminated. If the new administration wants to make a sincere effort do that, it doesn’t make sense to start out by overwhelming its cabinet secretaries.

And while you’re at it, please change the name of Workforce Solutions (give me a break) back to Labor. It won’t save any direct taxpayer dollars but it will reduce the consumption and cost of Tums for thousands of New Mexico taxpayers; and I can vouch personally (I have looked) that some back pages on its Web site still say DOL, four years after that ridiculous name change.

Triple Spaced Again, © New Mexico News Services 2010; posted in 2011

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