Get out of your silos and talk to each other, government!

The Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD) is forming a joint child safety strike force with the State Police. After a widely publicized announcement, they’ve even had a meeting! This was initiated after a seven-year-old girl was found to have been sex-trafficked by her parents.

Is this what it takes to get departments to work together in New Mexico government? Seven and a half years into an eight-year administration, they never thought of this before?

Drunk driving is another longstanding public safety issue. Linda Atkinson of the DWI Resource Center has been a passionate advocate for reducing drunk driving for more than 30 years. In a recent talk, she described her frustration about the lack of coordination among police, prosecutors, courts and corrections institutions.

In another recent talk, former State Land Commissioner Ray Powell mentioned the lack of coordination and communication among all the state agencies that have regulatory concerns with state trust lands. Among others, he mentioned the Game and Fish Department, Environment Department, Energy and Minerals Department and State Engineer.

Too many New Mexico state government departments don’t talk to each other. Some of their top managers don’t seem to be aware there’s any reason to.

I experienced this firsthand during my time in state government. My agency, the Worker’s Compensation Administration, had regulatory authority over small business. So did the Taxation and Revenue Department, Department of Workforce Solutions, state OSHA, the Insurance Department and others. Regulations overlapped or conflicted in ways that caused those business people confusion and frustration. We could have made their lives easier by coordinating. In my public information job, under my first director I was able to do a bit of that. Then we got a director who prohibited me from doing any more of it.

I once met the sole employee of the Health Department assigned to industrial illnesses. Until she met me, she did not know that there were two other agencies, mine and OSHA, concerned with that issue.

New Mexico could have an interagency coordinating council for land-use issues; another one for small business, one for drunk driving; and so on.

We had one such council, the Children’s Cabinet, during the Richardson administration. It was composed of the heads of all the departments that had a role in child well-being. The chairperson was Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish. The group got a number of projects accomplished. But it appears to have fallen into disuse under the current governor.

This happens under every change of administration.  The lessons of the previous administration get lost in transition. Ideally, these councils should be staffed by upper management employees who will maintain continuity through changes of administration.

New governors do not necessarily understand all the responsibilities  of every department and how those mandates interact with each other. The governor selects cabinet secretaries who first have to learn the details of their own department. They don’t necessarily know about these overlaps or what kinds of things maybe falling through the cracks – including the safety of very vulnerable children.

I recall thinking, every time a new director showed up at my agency, that the director’s first mission was to convince the staff he knew what he was doing, when it was obvious to me he didn’t.

Promoting interagency coordination for the benefit of the public has never been a compelling campaign talking point that grips the public imagination. I’ve never heard any candidate talk about it. But we’ll have a new governor soon and this matters. It is one way to make our government more effective and efficient, and to move this state forward.

If between now and January, CYFD develops good communication with law enforcement, that should not fall apart when the new governor takes office.  These relationships should be built and should continue, and the people in charge should support them.

Triple Spaced Again, © New Mexico News Services 2018



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