By Matt Cook
Note from the Editor:
The following article was first published by California Common Sense (CACS), a non-partisan think tank dedicated to “uncovering the truth about the state’s wasteful spending, bureaucratic inefficiencies, and massive debt crisis.” To learn more about CACS, please e-mail Nate Levine at firstname.lastname@example.org.
California’s problem is structural. It funds over 500 agencies, commissions, and departments, many of them with overlapping functions. California’s departments are subdivided into councils, agencies, and other departments, which are often redundant. The government’s solution has been to form new agencies and hire new administrators to manage cooperation between existing departments—not slash redundancies.
Examples of Redundancy
California’s environmental redundancies are some of the worst, with agencies overlapping within and between departments. The Natural Resources Department, for example, oversees both the Department of Conservation and the California Conservation Corps (different entities, same purpose). The California Environmental Protection Agency oversees the Departments of Pesticide Regulation and Toxic Substances Control. Pesticide Regulation alone employs over 350 individuals, many as administrators; that should be well enough to run the entire California EPA. On top of the air, water, and waste control, the state has separate departments for forestry, fish and game, wildlife protection, and coastal conservation—each with its own redundancies. To maintain cooperation, the Biodiversity Council was established to manage collaboration between 42 department and agencies, a portion of them federal. The proper approach would have been to reexamine the necessity of each agency and then apply the appropriate mergers, integrations, and cuts to reduce cost and repetition.
Redundancies on the environmental side hardly scratch the surface. Numerous political, safety, educational, and specialized departments also seem to repeat. The Division of the State Architect (over 200 employed), for example, “provides design and construction oversight for K–12 schools and community colleges, and develops and maintains accessibility standards and codes utilized in public and private buildings throughout the State of California.” The California Architects Board was created to fulfill the mission of “protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the public through the regulation of the practice of architecture in California.” There is also a long list of child care providers that could combine forces (Foster Youth Help, Child Abuse Prevention, Child Support Services, Children and Families Commission, California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids). Restructuring would not only cut redundancy, but also save significant administrative costs.
The Root of the Problem
Government agencies never operate like businesses; the incentives are not the same. Incentives are such that agency employees would prefer departmental redundancies that make their jobs easier (shared between multiple entities). To investigate departmental redundancies and inefficiencies, California Common Sense called thousands of state agencies, councils, and commissions requesting to speak with human resources administrators. Fewer than five percent of them could accurately tell us how many employees were on payroll. This information is fundamental to operating a business—and it should be fundamental to operating a government agency. Little attention is given to fixing inefficiencies within departments and redundancies between departments, and what solutions the government has chosen—creating new councils to manage existing ones—only exacerbate the problem.