No doubt about it: "Efficiency In Government" is the catch-phrase of the 1989 Legislature.
And following all the election-year accusations of waste and inefficiency in government, lawmakers have responded with a litany of proposals and counterproposals to make state government more accountable for how it spends its time and money.But if lawmakers are serious about addressing inefficiency in government, they should encourage those most familiar with mismanagement, abuse and even outright fraud - public employees who observe it on a daily basis - to come forward, according to Rep. R. Mont Evans, R-Riverton.
"The message we ought to be sending is that employees who report suspected wrongdoing will be protected at all costs, and that we in state government are doing our best to eliminate waste and inefficiencies in government," said Evans. "But that's not the message we are sending now."
Any public employee who comes forward does so at tremendous personal risk, Evans said. The consequences are not just harassment and social ostracism. Whistle-blowing frequently results in demotion, loss of seniority, lost opportunities for career advancement, loss of employment and, in some rare cases, even imprisonment.
"It comes down to a choice between their jobs and their personal commitment to do what is right. And the protection the state offers (to whistle blowers) is just not sufficient that employees will risk losing their jobs," he said.
With that potential threat hanging over a public employee, it's no wonder, Evans said, that few public employees are currently stepping forward with allegations of waste and mismanagement.
Evans has sponsored a bill that would broaden the legal protection currently offered whistle blowers and hopefully encourage them to step forward. A similar bill passed the House last year but died in the Senate Rules Committee. He hopes the enhanced attitude of "efficiency and accountability" pervading this legislative session will translate into passage of the bill.
Utah has a law now designed to protect whistle blowers, but loopholes may actually prevent public employees from coming forward, said Evans, himself a public employee who speaks from personal knowledge.
"I know there are whistle blowers out there. We just have to make it easier for them to come forward and strengthen the legal remedies available to them once they do."
Under the provisions of Evans' bill, all public employees who report "suspected" misuse or abuse of public funds or resources would be protected by state statute. Under current law, employees are protected only if it is proven that an actual abuse occurred.
Evans' bill also states public employees cannot be forced to violate department rules or state laws, and it also eliminates some of the bureaucratic red tape "that tends to bog down the process as it is now."