John Florez: Legislative oversight key to efficiency

Published: Saturday, Oct. 20 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

An evening view of the Utah State Capitol Building.

Steve Greenwood

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Keeping our governmental institutions responsive to current needs is one of the most difficult challenges our complex and rapidly changing society faces. As Thomas Jefferson said, " ... laws and institutions go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind ... with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times."

We are all keenly aware of the rapid growth of government and the constant struggle to slow it down, eliminate outmoded programs and keep our governmental institutions as problem solving entities. At the same time, we must be concerned there are the necessary avenues for redress of individual grievances; people are often injured simply because of the complexity of our bureaucracies. Finally, as government expands, people become more disenfranchised and alienated from it. Today, it is not uncommon for people to feel resigned to the fact that you can't fight city hall.

Utah government is susceptible to the malady about which Jefferson described. Legislation is passed with great hopes, designed to solve problems. However, there is the tendency for institutions to quickly become crystallized and preoccupied with pursuing their own existence rather than the task for which they were created. In too many instances, those that manage an agency have no knowledge of why the legislation was created and are held hostage by the special interest groups — the stakeholders.

Leaders of successful organizations realize they must review their mission periodically if they are to stay in business. Since public agencies are monopolies with captive customers, they have no need to provide good service and appear to be accountable to no one, least of all the consumer who also happens to be a taxpayer. An agency's primary concern is to survive by producing reports on what they do, rather than what they are supposed to produce.

In the private sector, there is an executive and a board of directors that monitors to assure the organization is producing a timely product driven by a customer base. In government, it's the Legislature that has the responsibility for making sure our state's public institutions are keeping pace with change in a cost-effective way. Many of today's public institutions have become outdated and lost their mandated purpose because of legislators' failure to exercise their oversight responsibility.

Legislative oversight hearings can serve as a mechanism for government agencies to review their missions and re?examine their goals, objectives, work program and budget in relation to the mission and demonstrate their stewardship to the Utah public. At times, the attitude of legislators is to not upset the special interest groups — then reviews of agencies consist of "let's see what we gave them last year and add a bit more." As such, bureaucracies continue to grow and flounder until a crisis becomes public — then lawmakers rush to place blame, rather than seeing themselves as part of the problem.

If our government is to serve the public's interest, then it's up to our lawmakers to exercise their oversight responsibility to make sure each agency is periodically renewed to solve the problems for which it was created. If we are serious about renewing our institutions, we must have leaders who have a vision of what we "ought" to be as a people and renew our public institutions so they reflect our values. Legislative oversight is the most important tool to make sure our government is not only efficient but also effective. If lawmakers are not willing to work in the taxpayers' interest, who will?

A Utah native, John Florez has been on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch, served as former Utah Industrial Commissioner and filled White House appointments, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor and Commission on Hispanic Education. Email him at jdflorez@comcast.net.

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