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Government reform, Florida-style.

With the support of the Legislature, Governor Chiles has put together a "bureaucracy busting" plan to bring flexibility and innovation to state government. Now, will it work?

Florida Governor Lawton Chiles was spending another day trying to explain his government restructuring plans to an audience of skeptical Tampa business leaders.

He reeled off dramatic changes proposed for state government:

* A plan in the works to break up the state's giant human services agency into 15 new districts more responsive to communities.

* An "education accountability" measure to bring control of schools closer to parents, teachers and school boards.

* Combining two administrative departments into one.

* Personnel system reforms to provide greater flexibility and make bureaucracy more responsive to the "customer."

And naturally he made a pitch for his $1.35 billion tax increase to finance an "investment budget" to drive this reinvented government.

"Reform state government before adding any new taxes," a businessman demanded.

Chiles was frustrated. What about the changes he had just described in human services, education, general government, civil service?

"What the hell do I have to do?" he pleaded.

Good question.

What do politicians have to do to restore faith in the institutions they run? What set of government reforms will click? What new ways of doing business will make people think their government is back to tract, working for them and not against them?

In Florida, Chiles is blazing a trail that one way or another will answer the question. Over the next two years the Sunshine State is likely to show whether new theories of improving government can work in practice. Chiles' experiment may show whether there is practical use for the ideas put forth by David Osborne in his Laboratories of Democracy and picked up by everyone from the Democratic Leadership Council to Republican reformers. Or is it think tank gobbledygook?

Chiles has most of the parts in place. A few more have to be navigated through a mostly receptive Legislature. But the implementing stage lies ahead. And results of selling the program to the public have been no better than mixed. Chiles keeps battling a wary public, a restive Republican minority in the Legislature, a bitter reapportionment fight and a stubborn recession.

Campaign Trail to Executive Chair

The language of reform is lofty, going back to Chiles' 1990 campaign for governor. At the peak of his power but at the depth of despair over his inability to overcome congressional inertia on the budget deficit, he left behind his Senate seat and Budget Committee chairmanship and spent a year in semi-retirement.

He was lured back to politics to run against first-term Republican Governor Bob Martinez. And immediately "Walkin' Lawton," so named after his improbable walk across Florida won him the Senate election in 1970, began talking a strange new vision of "reinventing" government.

"The difference between a crowd and a community is that in a crowd there is no covenant," said Chiles, 62. "People are standing next to each other, but they are looking out only for themselves. In a community, they recognize that all are diminished when one suffers, and that one cannot be deprived without depriving all."

Chiles won convincingly, then set out to turn Florida's government around. Now he was not one of 535, but was the executive at the top, the leader of 160 legislators, 136,000 state employees and 13 million Floridians.

Florida's government restructuring plans are made up of civil service changes, education reform, improved productivity, performance measurements, administrative streamlining and restructuring of the Department of Health and Rehabilitatives Services (HRS).

Reform of HRS was a logical place to start. The department's 44,000 employees and $8 billion budget make it the largest states agency in the country. Basic human services that most states divide among five or six agencies are all provided in Florida by the massive HRS. Chiles has always had an interest in the delivery of health and human services; a priority his first year in office was a "Healthy Start" program for pregnant women and newborns. The HRS budget has tripled in the past 10 years. Without changes Florida's Medicaid budget will rise from $4.3 billion today to $20.3 billion in 1999.

HRS was constantly in the news, and was often dragged before legislative committees when breakdowns occurred. A lot of the agency's problems came down to lack of money. But Chiles and HRS Secretary Bob Williams set out to prove the state could do more with less.

Twenty community boards, appointed by Chiles to recommend how social services and health care could more effectively be delivered, made recommendations last year. The planning groups heard from more than 400 people during dozens of hearings across the state. The groups reviewed the performance of the 11 HRS districts in every county of the state. Last November, the planning groups presented their "Blueprint for Change" that formed the basis of the HRS Reorganization Act passed last spring by the Legislature.

Despite Florida's diversity, the boards' recommendations came out remarkably alike. None recommended dismantling HRS by function. The clients, Williams said, "don't come neatly packaged with one need." Instead, the interim planning groups suggested, the huge agency should be sliced horizontally. The boards suggested more opportunity at the local level to identify and rank needs and more authority to shift money to fill those needs.

During its regular session, the Legislature passed the HRS Reorganization Act. It added four new districts, making a total of 15. Each will be governed by a Health and Human Services Board, with four-fifths of its members appointed by county commissions, the remainder by the governor. The boards, ranging from 15 to 23 members, will be more than advisory. They will have a strong voice in hiring their district director and can recommend a director's ouster. They will draw up "direct service plans" and sign performance agreements with the HRS secretary to carry them out.

Williams, elevated from deputy secretary to the top HRS job by Chiles, said the flexibility will help service delivery and probably employee morale. Local boards may be able to decide that bring two "direct service aides" is more cost-effective than hiring a social worker at twice the salary. An aide might take a foster child to the doctor and wait three hours while the child is treated. "Obviously it doesn't take a trained social worker to do that," Williams said.

HRS reorganization involved the transfer of 2,000 employees out of the agency to departments that duplicated the service. Restaurant inspectors went to the Department of Business Regulations; pest control regulators to the Agriculture Department; Project Independence, a job-training program, to the Department of Labor.

Even more dramatic is the Fresh Start idea that a South Florida HRS district director wants to put in place. The program would use community volunteers to do some of the human service work now done by government employees. The new HRS law permits waivers for such experiments.

Last spring, 240 volunteers spent a weekend to help HRS catch up on a huge backlog of child-abuse files. The volunteers were lawyers, social workers and other professionals who pared down caseloads that had grown in the Miami area to 130 files per counselor. Thirty-seven data processors came forward to help type legal documents. Law clerks are helping write petitions.

"I never in my wildest dreams thought we'd get 700 volunteers," said Jim Towey, the HRS district administrator for Miami and the Florida Keys. "I think people were skeptical about HRS down here, but they took a step of faith."

In another Fresh Start program, Miami residents brought boxes of diapers and supplies of baby formula to a central location for social workers to pack away in their cars and give to needy families. As much as possible, Towey says, he wants HRS to get out of the way.

"I'm saying you show up, bring your diapers, put them directly in the hands of our workers," he said. "Let's not create a new bureaucracy. Let the people be free to go out and do good."

"Rather than just a mechanical change in the way boxes get drawn," Williams said, "it's a fundamental rethinking of the way we do business."

What about money? Some county officials fear that Chiles' reorganization is a scheme to shift the enormous human service bill to local government. That's not he intent, Williams said, though he acknowledges the hope that communities with a stake in caring for their own will choose to spend more money. None of the human service advocates in the Legislature or outside depict reorganization as a solution to the HRS' severe money shortfall. (Budget cuts have forced elimination of 2,700 positions since early 1991.)

"We need more resources," Williams says. "Let's step forward together." One of the pieces that fell out of the HRS package would have granted matching state money to counties that raised more for their HRS needs.

Chiles and his aides have high hopes for what the governor called "a community-owned, community-operated human services agency." But Williams knows that these fundamental changes come with a commitment to remain accountable.

"If we mess it up, it's going to be another generation before somebody gets a chance to have that flexibility again," he said.

Career Service Reform

From the start, Chiles' reorganization plan targeted Florida's personnel system. Formed more than 30 years ago to protect state employees from the political spoils system, the career service system had become burdened with rules, forms, job classifications, pay steps, cumbersome appeals procedures, endless red tape. Chiles kept saying last year he wouldn't talk about raising taxes until he had fixed government. "Don't pour money into a broken system" was a familiar refrain in the Capitol.

"Career service reform is at the heart," said Lieutenant Governor Buddy MacKay, an Osborne adherent who admits to going philosphical about matters of government and politics. "It's one of those eye glazers. Public employees are intensely interested. Other people say, |Why can't you manage better?' But it's not a sexy political issue."

Career service reform allows managers more flexibility in hiring, firing and promotions. The reform reduced job classifications from 1,600 to 700.

A problem with the old system, said Department of Administration Secretary John A. Pieno Jr., was in the length of hiring time. About 6 percent of the talented prospects for jobs don't ever hire on because it takes the state too long to advertise, readvertise and string other red tape. Another common consequence: Professionals such as social workers became administrators in order to get higher pay. Career service changes will allow professionals to stay in the jobs they were trained to do and still get raises.

"It's basically a bureaucracy buster," said Dominic Calabro, president of Florida TaxWatch, a business-financed public interest group. TaxWatch has been mostly supportive of Chiles' reorganization plans, some of which TaxWatch itself has been recommending for years. But it cautions that Floridians have seen the blueprint, not the building.

Two pilot projects have shown what can happen when managers are freed from the chains of the personnel rule-book. The Revenue Department and Labor Department have logged savings with increased efficiency.

Clerks at the Revenue Department, fingers flying faster than ever, are making sure taxes get in the bank quicker. Speediness earned one data processor bonuses averaging $300 a month. Another bureau improved its review of local property tax notices. In 1990, 30 employees did the reviews in 12 weeks. In 1991, six employees did the job in seven weeks.

Paperwork is churning faster, too, in the Workers' Compensation Division of the Labor Department. The department paid $512,000 in bonuses to workers who saved the state $705,000 by processing paperwork quicker, said Labor Secretary Frank Scruggs. Net savings: $193,000. Workers took home bonuses averaging $192 a month.

"In addition to (the savings), we have people working harder, smarter and much more effectively," Scruggs said. Now he has gotten authority to expand the "productivity enhancements" departmentwide.

"Career service reform and management innovations are crucial because they represent a way to break the cycle of public cynicism about government," Scruggs said. "The public has been reluctant to appropriate more money because they're skeptical that government works well."


A hog won't butcher itself.

Chiles encountered predictable resistance from the bureaucracy to his plan to abolish two agencies--the Department of Administration and the Department of General Services--and form a new Department of Management Services.

"You start talking about changes, and you see shutters go down and defenses go up," said Pieno, the administration department secretary. He should know. His top deputy was fired in April when the governor's chief of staff caught her lobbying against the Chiles administration's proposal to merge the agencies.

The new Department of Management Services will take on many of the duties of the other two agencies, which included personnel, employee insurance, retirement, purchasing, facility management, construction, motor pool. But as much as possible, this sort of mundan e governmental work for other agencies will be decentralized or privatized. Lieutenant Governor MacKay said he wanted to eliminate both the old agencies and not replace them at all, but that was considered too radical. The merger is expected to save $7 million and cut 105 jobs.

Selling the Reform

Chiles, MacKay, state Education Commissioner Betty Castor, State University Chancellor Charlie Reed and a pack of state agency heads have been tirelessly selling Florida's "right-sizing." But the result is mixed.

In conference with plenty of give and take, Chiles has won people over with the idea that his plans will improve the way government works. But they want to see the results before committing to the next big step, raising taxes.

Chiles suffered two big public relations disasters early in his term. One occurred when newpapers reported he paid his top political appointees $93,000, more than their predecessors made under Martinez. Then a newspaper report showed that the number of employees on the payroll had actually increased while Chiles was declaring he had "right-sized" government employment. MacKay said the administration should have made a clear distinction between employees and budgeted positions, which have indeed dropped since Chiles took office.

In fact, the past 18 months of budget cuts in Florida have blurred the focus of the restructuring. Chiles has presided over budget cuts totaling $2 billion since he took office, leading many people in and out of the Legislature to believe this was "right-sizing." As the budget got worse, legislators immediately targeted the $32 million Chiles had set aside for productivity enhancements.

Another problem with restructuring government is that it's both too nebulous and too arcane. When Chiles says that "right-sizing" is a "state of mind," he sounds disturbingly like a Governor Moonbeam Redux. And yet when he tries to explain the details of combining administrative functions, the eyelids grow heavy.

And Chiles encounters plenty of resistance from veteran legislators who have seen reorganization plans come and go and have yet to be convinced that "right-sizingg" will change things significantly.

"A lot of us want to get a handle on what's happening in state government," said Senator Robert Johnson, a Sarasota Republican. "We're tired of getting flim-flammed by buzzwords and the acronyms of the day which basically do nothing but make a few people feel good."

When restructuring is done, how will the people know? Is there any "reform" people will accept that doesn't send state workers to unemployment lines and cut taxes?

MacKay acknowledges that a gap exists between the changes that are being made and what the public can see and touch and feel. Reinventing government is no electoral hot button. What's been done so far, MacKay said, is laying a foundation. It's not pretty, but it's solid and means the rest is coming.

"When people see what it's going to look like, I think they're going to be excited," he said.

Bill Moss covers politics and state government from the Tallahassee Bureau of the St. Petersburg Times.
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Title Annotation:bureaucratic reform
Author:Moss, Bill
Publication:State Legislatures
Date:Jul 1, 1992
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