Spending money to save money

By Patrick Gannon | Jul 01, 2014

RALEIGH - The irony was unmistakable.

In a recent legislative committee meeting, House and Senate lawmakers peppered an official in Gov. Pat McCrory's administration with questions about money the state is spending on an effort to try to save money in state government.

The effort is NC GEAR, short for Government Efficiency and Reform, which was first envisioned by McCrory as he entered office in 2013. The McCrory official was Joe Coletti, deputy director of the NC GEAR initiative. The questioners were Republicans and Democrats.

NC GEAR is funded with $4 million in the current two-year budget cycle. It is a poster child for one of the anchors of the McCrory administration – to make government more efficient and improve customer service.

Three-quarters of that money – roughly $3 million – is paying for private consultants hired to help probe into state government to identify ways to consolidate agencies or programs, save money and make government work better for the people. The rest is paying for costs of the program, including the salaries of a few state employees working on it.

Veteran legislators have seen this type of efficiency effort before, often with little more to show for the money spent than another report collecting dust on a shelf. Coletti himself acknowledged that similar efforts in the past have ended up as "great book stops."

That context framed lawmakers' questioning in the committee meeting. Rep. Julia Howard, a Mocksville Republican, led the barrage of questions to Coletti, focusing on the $4 million cost and what the state could expect in return.

Howard mentioned NC GEAR's interim report, which showed a list of efforts already under way across state government but no new recommendations. A final report is due in February. Sen. Jeff Tarte, a Cornelius Republican, asked Coletti whether he could share any cost-saving measures or "quick wins" that NC GEAR has identified at this point in its work. Coletti said he wasn't ready to do that. Another lawmaker questioned whether NC GEAR had enough time to produce valuable ideas.

Sen. Ralph Hise, a Spruce Pine Republican, recognized the tone of the questioning and put it bluntly to Coletti.

"When we sit here in February, if we get a report back that doesn't have new directions that the legislature has not considered, new areas for potential consolidation and spending savings that is a bold direction for this state, then whatever we spend … will have been a complete waste of money and it'll find itself on another shelf," Hise said.

It's not the first McCrory idea to face close scrutiny from lawmakers. The governor's effort to move the job recruiting and marketing functions from the Commerce Department to a public-private partnership also has been met with intense examination over the past year-plus. It is now slated to move forward after gaining approval from the General Assembly.

Coletti said NC GEAR's final report would include specific recommendations and projected savings if they are implemented. He said the intent of the initiative is to "transform state government."

If he and his team don't produce, it was clear that NC GEAR will turn into RAGE among lawmakers.

Comments (2)
Posted by: Scott Lilly | Jul 02, 2014 08:01

Mr. Gannon's writing is better than Mr. O'Connors.  I hope this is a permanent change.  I find value in this article.

 

Regarding a $3M price tag for consultants... That is only valuable if legislators USE the information and recommendations from the highly-qualified (or at least expensive) consultants.  Coming from that line of work, it's amazing to me when someone calls on high-end consultants and then do not act on the product that those consultants produce.  Sen. Hise's concerns are valid.  Transformational efforts are expensive and take courage to implement.



Posted by: John C Sanderson | Jul 02, 2014 17:11

Yeah, "Sen. Hise's concerns are valid"....and more than a little bit late.

 

As far as I can tell, the funding for this NC GEAR effort is in the budget - a budget voted on and approved by the legislature. The same legislators who are now expressing such concern for the price tag of these consultants and the productivity of their recommendations are the same legislators who approved this whole thing in the first place.

 

I suppose when you're only a few months away from an election it's good to try to make yourself look like you're fiscally responsible and all. But these guys gave the "OK" for this effort some time ago, fully understanding what they were doing - i.e., funding what could possibly be "a complete waste of money" - and now they want to make it look like this was all Gov. McCrory's doing. Either that, or they didn't even understand what they were approving in the first place - and that doesn't make them look particularly intelligent, either.

 

Don't forget to vote in November, and perhaps reflect upon some of the ill-considered actions of this legislature when deciding who you will support.



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