Too cozy? Payoffs? Or just negligence? What's going on? There are plenty of regulations designed to prevent disasters, so how come they are not enforced? Where do we turn when disasters happen — oil spills, coal mines, outrageous mismanagement of taxpayer dollars — who's in charge?
The BP disaster should be a wake-up call for our elected leaders; no matter how many laws they pass or regulations are written to implement them, it won't make any difference in preventing disasters if they are not, or are only seldom, enforced. Often, violations of regulations are not deliberate; rather, they happen because of the friendly relationship that is often developed between the compliance agency staff and business or contractor. It is human nature and must be consistently supervised by someone with the authority to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.
Agencies are responsible for writing regulations that frequently seem burdensome and are designed more to protect them from criticism, rather than carrying out what lawmakers intended. It creates an environment where risk-taking by administrators is punished. Agency administrators are merely reacting to a culture where lawmakers are quick to blame failures on administrators rather than clarifying what they intended in passing the law. Legislators unwittingly become responsible for government bloat and red tape, where everyone and no one is responsible, blame is placed on those at the bottom of the food chain, and the public they are supposed to serve remains vulnerable.
Who is ultimately responsible for assuring laws and regulations are being followed? Utah legislators are quick to order a legislative audit when a problem becomes public. In the last two years, there have been 21 audits conducted on public agencies; however, the public knows little about results to correct deficiencies. The 2009 audit on the Department of Workforce Services found a needless cost of $28 million due to agency mismanagement of medical payments. Who is responsible for correcting the problem — legislators who ordered the audit or the governor as chief executive officer of the state? The public is lulled into believing the problem will be corrected, but it often seems to be forgotten until the next public outcry or disaster. Are the problems ever corrected — and by whom? Similar problems exist with audits of other agencies.
Accountability becomes meaningless where there is no supervision, monitoring or consequences for failures. If regulations are not enforced, they not only become costly but, most important, demoralizing to an organization, and they allow abuse. Lawmakers make laws, and lots of them, but they seem to dislike carrying out their oversight responsibility in making sure our government is working effectively and efficiently. It's popular to be nice and give out favors, and difficult to say no and impose sanctions when necessary. It's called fiduciary responsibility; to do otherwise is for lawmakers to allow government to grow while, at the same time, they complain about big government.
The challenge officials have in running a public organization is tough because the process is public and solutions are often not black or white when it comes to having a society that allows people to be free, live and work in a civil manner. Laws and regulations are needed to preserve that kind of society; however, they should be minimal; those necessary must be monitored, enforced, and the public kept informed on how effective our elected leaders are in carrying out their oversight duties. That may not be as sensational as making laws, but it's what makes civil societies work and it builds trust in our elected leaders.
A Utah native, John Florez has founded several Hispanic civil rights organizations; been on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch, served on more than 45 state, local and volunteer boards; and filled White House appointments, including deputy assistant secretary of labor and as a member of the commission on Hispanic education. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.