What do you think would happen if you drove your car for years but never had any normal maintenance done? What if you just put gas in the car and never even bothered to check the condition or pressure of your tires?
Ignoring what is going on with your vehicle until you end up stranded on the side of the road is not a good plan, but for the most part, that is how we deal the operation of state agencies.
The need for an in-depth and systematic review of every state agency program seems obvious. Recent headlines of the Department of Human Services sending millions of dollars down the drain seem to underscore the need for in-depth review of all agencies.
Legislative committees already study issues concerning the operation of state agencies, but often the review is narrow in scope or occurs after car has broken down. It is a hit or miss process that often starts only after constituent groups have complained loud and long.
New agency regulations and contracts as well as certain personnel changes are reviewed by the Legislative Council. But what about the review of the performance of agency programs and need or lack of need for an agency programs?
Before a regular session all state agencies are called in to consider their budgets. Unfortunately, the budget hearing process runs so many agencies through the hearings over a short period of time that there is little time to delve into the operations of each agency, other than to raise some constituent gripes about an agency. For the most part the budget hearings are merely a quick gas stop, with the Governor and legislature giving most agencies the same percentage increase or decrease in budget based on available revenues.
Too much of state agency activity gets rubber stamped with little scrutiny from the legislature.
2015 proposal was overlooked
Representative Donnie Copeland filed a bill called “Sunset Review” during the 2015 regular session, but HB1729 never got out of the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee. Representative Copeland’s bill deserved serious attention. The bill would have brought state agencies before legislative committees for review of the agencies’ programs. It would have provided an opportunity to not only to evaluate how well the program is being conducted but also to assess the continued need for the program or for the development of an alternate or revised program.
Past efforts fell short
Decades ago the legislature tried to address the problem but there was little follow through.
- Act 100 of 1977 was called “Sunset Review” but that law was very different from the bill filed by Representative Copeland. Act 100 of 1977 was a merely cattle call which ran a large number of agencies through a process asking “Should we keep this agency?” It was a very narrow review and was conducted during a time when legislative committees still met infrequently. Other than the name “Sunset Review,” Act 100 of 1977 was too limited to be beneficial and was soon repealed.
- Act 222 of 1999 adopted a pilot program of performance-based program budgeting and strategic planning by the Arkansas Legislative Council. Although the idea was good, the execution of the program relied heavily on abstract benchmarks and the pilot program was quickly discarded.
Isn’t it time?
Many members of the Arkansas House of Representatives and Senate now think of themselves as full-time legislators and their legislative salaries have increased along those lines. If they are going to be full-time or near full-time legislators, why not spend the time to systematically review the programs of each state agency. It is the regular maintenance that is needed to ensure that state government is operating efficiently.
Letting state agency programs drive down the road until the wheels fall off isn’t working for Arkansas.
Representative Donnie Copeland’s 2015 Sunset Review bill or some similar legislation should be considered. Follow this link to read the bill: HB1729.