In Our View: Streamlined State

New department might have a dull name, but it could carry considerable savings

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No creative-marketing contests will be won by the state’s newest agency: the Department of Enterprise Services. And the work of the new department likely won’t grab many headlines. As its new director, Joyce Turner, explained in an Associated Press story, “We don’t protect children. We don’t keep criminals locked up or remove drunk drivers from the road. But we enable our partners to do their jobs so they can focus on their mission.”

The real attraction of the DES (which became official Monday) is neither in its name nor its mission. It’s in the $18 million that is expected to be saved for our cash-strapped state government. This merger exemplifies the type of deficit-driven reform that is necessary in the massive bureaucracy. Check out the new website: http://des.wa.gov.

DES represents a merger of all or parts of five agencies that also carry less-than-dynamic monikers: General Administration, Information Services, Personnel, Printing and the Office of Financial Management. Gov. Chris Gregoire calls it the most extensive reorganization of state government in two decades. Not since several departments were centralized in the Department of Fish and Wildlife 20 years ago has the state undergone such an overhaul.

Here’s an easy way to decipher the purpose of this consolidated but still complex new department: “Much like a business does, the state will cut costs and boost productivity by consolidating the tech support and systems every agency’s employees use,” said Mike Ricchio, director of the new Consolidated Technology Services agency.

In other words, a bunch of IT geeks and the administration nerds are rounded up, many of them working in the new $255 million office and data center complex east of the Capitol in Olympia.

Credit for the consolidation belongs to legislators who passed Senate Bill 5931, supported by two state senators from Clark County, Republican Joe Zarelli of Ridgefield and Democrat Craig Pridemore of Vancouver. In the House, local Republicans voted for the measure; Democrats opposed it.

No one is claiming yet that state government is any smaller as a result of this consolidation. Fewer than 150 jobs are expected to be trimmed. But the projected savings are significant, and taxpayers could see streamlined access to their state government. That’s the promise of Turner, the DES’ first director, who vows to “open doors on innovative ways of providing key government services … to provide excellent customer service to state agencies, local governments, the vendors we do business with, and the public.”

Where might the results of this “cultural merger” be noticed by the public? Well, take a deep breath and review this list from the AP story, which mentioned those who work in state payroll, training and recruiting workers and giving human resources advice, preparing legal contracts, managing real estate, purchasing supplies and running a WEBS (Washington’s Electronic Business Solution) purchasing site, managing vehicle fleets, running the state accounting and budgeting tools, custodial and grounds-keeping functions, printing and information-technology help from 300 IT workers.

What’s next? The state Department of Revenue wants to consolidate collection of business and occupation taxes. Currently, DOR collects the state B&O, while more than three dozen cities (none of them in Clark County) collect their own. The DOR believes savings and convenience can be achieved by letting the DOR administer all the collections. Sounds like a great idea.

Let’s hope the Legislature expedites and closely monitors consolidations, modifies those that don’t work smoothly and uses the successful ones as a pattern for more money-saving mergers.