Capitol View

by Richard Borreca

Reorganizing state
government is old story

IF Hawaii were Nike we could "just do it." We're not so we can't, although Gov. Ben Cayetano is still on the court. Just 15 years after Hawaii became a state, Gov. John Burns set up a committee to reorganize state government. Unlike current attempts, the Burns initiative was a full-blown bureaucratic commission with blue-ribbon members, executive directors and secretaries.

The commission took testimony, drafted reports and held public hearings. The recommendations became the framework for Gov. George Ariyoshi's first years in executive office.

To recap the work: The 1974 commission urged changing the collective bargaining law, making civil servants more responsible, giving more authority to local schools, dropping the elected school board, rethinking the need for a state medical school, getting out of the business of running county hospitals and finally making University of Hawaii students pay for more of their education.

Hawaii did not "just do it." The last mention of the 1974 commission was a five-paragraph story in 1977 claiming the changes were too sweeping for the state Legislature and more study was needed.

Then in the last years of the John Waihee administration, state government tried to reform itself again. A capable administrator, Susan Doyle, was given the task. Much of her time was spent working out a model of what government was supposed to be.

She used the theory once expounded by John F. Kennedy that if you can define the problem, the solution to the problem is also apparent. The investigation didn't go on long enough to discover causes and implement cures.

When Ben Cayetano became governor, he hit the court running, promising speedy review, reform and reorganization.

Saying the effort should be systematic, Cayetano promised a task force "which I will personally chair." The group would include key state department heads and involve the participation of public employee unions and business community leaders.

It didn't work that way.

The task force, according to Cayetano assistant Peter Rosegg, was shifted to staff level with Cayetano maintaining oversight. The business and labor leaders weren't members of the group, but were consulted from time to time.

Cayetano, however, is continuing with his plans for reorganization. Much of it is the same as was proposed last year, but was not approved by the Legislature.

This time around Cayetano has run into competing plans from several legislators who also want to overhaul state operations.

The plans run from the dream stage of changing the civil service to a merit-based system to the easier-to-do suggestions of cutting out the Office of State Planning and the duplicative Land Court.

IN a little-publicized list of objectives for his administration, Cayetano said, "Our first question must be: Should government be doing this? Government cannot be all things to all people."

Getting the state to follow such a simple dictum if you could do it with one memo would be hard enough, but to move the state with its competing layers of political fiefdoms makes reform nearly impossible.

Cayetano started his administration by asking for change; Waihee ended his by realizing government needed revamping.

The hope, then, rests in forces from outside government demanding that change occur. That is the only way Cayetano will be able to "just do it."

Richard Borreca reports on Hawaii's politics on Wednesday. Write him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802 or send e-mail to

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