State's bloated bureaucracy prices work force out of jobs and efficiency


POSTED: Sunday, June 07, 2009

Gov. Linda Lingle is correct in her assessment that state government labor costs, representing 70 percent of the entire budget, must be addressed to bring spending into line with available resources.

In view of the steep decline in revenue, she is also correct to seek the immediate adjustment that her furlough program will achieve.

But the fact of the matter is that government has grown too big and has become too unwieldy and inefficient almost to the point of unmanageability.

Our government and each department within it must undergo a complete reorganization to deliver its services in a more cost-effective and labor-saving manner. Human labor must be viewed as a scarce and valuable resource, not to be casually wasted in make-work or do-nothingism.

We have created huge and expensive bureaucracies that actually impede the smooth functioning of government programs. The list is long and the state auditor has revealed many such shortcomings to anyone who has cared to see.

In many cases, our union brothers, seeking to improve working conditions, pay grades and benefits for public workers, can now be seen to have literally priced their own work force out of a job. Does anyone remember the days when the rallying cry was to bring public worker compensation to par with the general citizenry? No more. Government labor long ago surpassed the private sector in wages, benefits, pensions, holidays, vacations, sick pay, training and job security. It's a complete compensation package. It's very expensive.

Are state workers earning these escalated rewards? Is there a prevailing attitude and mindset to deliver improved services, to find new and better ways to achieve departmental goals and to take up the challenge of their jobs each and every day? Or is there a stubborn contentment with the status quo, a desire to do the minimum to get by, a willingness to sit back with the entitlement mentality that says workers are “;owed”; all of this?

Take a look at our Department of Education. Over the years its budget has increased dramatically. So, how is it that the schools are starved for money?

It's the massive DOE bureaucracy that consumes the resources. And it's not just money, it's people and talent. To advance one's career in “;education,”; one must abandon teaching. The DOE is so thick with bureaucrats that one persistent critic has labeled DOE the “;Department of Employment.”;

It's just a big house full of “;jobs”; producing reports and plans and budgets and a firm desire to control the schools.

Who is managing all of this? Our union brothers have done such a superb job of protecting all of these “;jobs”; that nothing can be done without navigating a swamp of paperwork, roadblocks and delay. Even school principals are in the union. The incentive to achieve is suppressed. Look at the DOE disdain for the charter school movement. Charter school success, using considerably fewer dollars, puts a lie to the constant DOE drumbeat that public education in Hawaii fails for lack of money.

Maybe it takes a crisis like the one we now face to make us realize our errors. It is plain enough that government should be reworked and that we do not need more of it. From the voluminous and incomprehensible tax codes to the vast bureaucracies to the relentless intrusion of government into private lives to the outrageous expense of it all, we need a fresh start.

Perhaps the challenge we face today will provide the impetus and opportunity to accomplish just that.

Michael G. Palcic is co-owner of MacMouse Club Inc.