Morgan: When government is good (The Journal Record)

By: Fred Morgan

Ronald Reagan famously said, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’”

The entrenched bureaucracy of a government can slow processes down and diminish efficiencies. There has long been a push to have government emulate private sector business practices to increase productivity, innovation and return on investment. The business community supports and applauds these efforts. Certain sectors of government are becoming more efficient, and we must expand these initiatives to save taxpayer dollars.

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections is an agency that should be recognized for its efforts. After years of being woefully underfunded and servicing a system badly in need of reforms, the agency has taken matters into its own hands. Along with its board of directors from the private sector, it began an agency review process to find inefficiencies. Its goal is to find innovative ways for the private sector to perform tasks usually reserved for the agency, yielding more cost-efficient results. While there is much more to be done, this type of initiative should be undertaken by every agency of government.

Women in Recovery, a program under the Department of Human Services aimed at decreasing the number of women incarcerated, made headlines in April for adopting the state’s first Pay for Success contract. It encourages private sector investment in government programs with a promise of return on investment once the program can prove it achieved results. In this case, if target graduation rates are met and the women are not reincarcerated, the George Kaiser Family Foundation will be reimbursed for its investment. In Utah, a private investor recently received a reimbursement after the childhood special education program it invested in was shown to be successful.

While good examples like these do exist, they are unfortunately rare. This past session, the State Chamber sponsored legislation creating an Agency Spending Review Commission. The commission will conduct performance audits for state agencies and work with the private sector to find better ways to utilize tax dollars. With the state’s revenue downturn, it is vitally important we continually look to improve the way tax dollars are spent. This is not meant to “cut our way out of the budget deficit.” Rather, it is the start of intelligent, thoughtful discussions about ways to modernize government and return it to its intended purpose – to efficiently protect and serve its citizens.

Fred Morgan is president and CEO of the State Chamber of Oklahoma.