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Gov. Enacts Few Reform Proposals

One year after the California Performance Review listed 279 ways to increase efficiency and reduce costs, not many have been carried out.

August 22, 2005|Jordan Rau | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Though he came into office promising to reshape a state bureaucracy he compared to "a mastodon frozen in time and about as responsive," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has yet to embrace the bulk of the recommendations his own experts offered a year ago.

Schwarzenegger's California Performance Review last August proposed reconfiguring the state's disparate and sometimes redundant agencies into 11 unified departments. It also suggested 279 specific ways it said would make government more efficient and save $32 billion over the next five years.

The plan was supposed to help Schwarzenegger fulfill his pledge, made two months after he was sworn in, to do more than tinker with the state's bureaucracy.

"Every governor proposes moving boxes around to reorganize government," he told legislators in January 2004. "I don't want to move boxes around; I want to blow them up."

But most of his ambitious proposals to reshuffle state agencies have not been enacted or have been downscaled. Schwarzenegger has substantially rejiggered only one area of government: the state's prison system, which has been troubled by overcrowding, management problems and lapses in medical treatment.

Both allies and critics say the other changes his administration has enacted -- including several dozen that his task force suggested -- are comparatively modest.

The administration has adopted a multi-state lottery system, eliminated 11 largely dormant state panels, reduced the backlog of uninvestigated complaints against contractors and other professionals and sold unused state property.

Michael Alpert, chairman of the bipartisan Little Hoover Commission, which reviewed many of the proposals, said Schwarzenegger's reorganization effort is "the largest endeavor of this type in at least 40 years, but it didn't blow up the boxes."

The administration is finding that some of the reforms are saving less money than originally estimated. The governor has abandoned other proposals after failing to persuade legislators in both parties to go along. And in several cases, he now opposes ideas he originally championed.

Schwarzenegger aides insist they are just in the beginning stages of reform. But they downplay the task force's promises of vast savings, saying instead that their primary goal is to make state agencies run more efficiently and become more responsive to citizens.

"Many of our agencies that are extremely complex are still evaluating the thousands of recommendations," said Terry Tamminen, Schwarzenegger's Cabinet secretary. "There may have been a misunderstanding that somehow if you get this many hundred pages of documents, that government can implement it overnight."

Sen. Chuck Poochigian of Fresno, a Republican ally of the governor who sits on the Little Hoover Commission, conceded that "the huge dramatic sea change in the way the government does business has not occurred."

But Poochigian said that the administration has made progress and still has time. "There's so much attention being given to the [Nov. 8] special election, if the governor is viewed as being very strong politically after that, then I think there certainly is the possibility that these dramatic shifts could take place," he said.

The administration cannot say how much money overall its changes have saved or cost.

In several individual cases in which officials have quantified the costs, actual savings have proved quite different from the amounts projected in the report. Selling surplus state property, for example, reaped $137 million, nearly three times the $47 million the task force predicted, officials say.

But the administration says it will save $50 million over two years by employing a more sophisticated strategy of purchasing equipment, known as "strategic sourcing." The task force had forecast $96 million in savings by this month.

There has been no action on some of the proposals that the task force said would save the most money, including changing the enrollment rules for kindergarten so that some children would delay starting school by a year. The task force said that restricting kindergarten to children who are 5 by Sept. 1 instead of Dec. 2 would save the state $2.7 billion over five years.

To gauge the administration's progress, The Times examined 39 specific recommendations the task force made. For those recommendations, the task force had predicted substantial costs or savings in the fiscal year that ended June 30, indicating that the report's authors believed those changes could be quickly initiated.

The task force predicted the state would have seen $1 billion in savings through 28 of the recommendations, which range from the specific (use digital photos instead of film) to the grand (make state employees more efficient through better technology, training and management). Of those, eight have been completed, eight are underway and work has not begun on the other 12, according to the governor's office.

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