Over the course of my career, I have worked both inside and outside of government at different levels. Government operations are much like a wheel. Even when trying to reinvent the wheel, it changes very little. It just continues to roll. Like a big wheel, the larger the government, the more difficult it is to change … anything.
That’s why I have found Governor Wolf’s proposal to merge the Departments of Human Services, Health, Drug & Alcohol and Aging and the merger of the Department of Corrections with the Department of Probation so intriguing. This also comes on the heels of comments over the past few months from House Majority Leader David Reed (R-Indiana) about the need to change state government for both more efficiencies and to keep up with current trends in organizational management.
I also have to admit, the last time there was a significant re-organization in state government, I had the opportunity and experience to play a role in “re-inventing” government. During the Ridge Administration, we started about this time in 1995 and succeeded in our mission of dismantling the old Department of Community Affairs (DCA) and merging the functions into the Department of Commerce, which then became the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) on July 1, 1996.
I’m sure to many of us in the business community, a re-organization of departments within state government probably makes sense. After all, the last 2 decades in business have all probably participated in some type of re-organization, leveraging technology to create flatter, hopefully more productive businesses as we strive to squeeze out a better bottom line. It’s all because of competition, new tools, new processes and new opportunities. We have seen mega-mergers and acquisitions of large firms such as Universal/NBC and Comcast, Ahold and Delhaize (local Giant) and we sit in the backyard of Rite Aid and watch their journey toward selling (merging into) Walgreens. In business, every merger requires reorganization and some re-organizations are about survival. Re-organization generally makes business sense, when we are driven to cut costs and design operations to improve the bottom line.
That’s where government and business differ. Government is not about the bottom line, it is about serving the public good, the public need. Government is also not controlled by a CEO and corporate board (or boards) in a traditional sense. I used the phrase “reinventing government” above. It’s the name of a book published in the early 1990s by Ted Gaebler and David Osborne, who became rock stars in government policy in the 1990s. Ironically, as I was doing some research for this article, I ran across a piece titled “25 years later, what happened to Reinventing Government?”
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