Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Accountability? In Albany?

Creating The Appearance Of Transparency In Government

Governor Paterson announced today that he had created an Office of Taxpayer Accountability to "eliminate waste, fraud and abuse in State government."

Good, so we're finally going to abolish the NYS Legislature!

Aside from the fact that offices -- both elected and appointed -- designated to serve as watchdogs over every level of government already exist (too bad no one is watching them), their oversight yielding little more than commissions, studies, and reports that go unheeded, and nothing that remotely resembles efficient, streamlined government, this newly created Office of Taxpayer Accountability would appear to do no more than to create yet another level of government -- this to rehash old rhetoric and reinvent the square wheel.

Indeed, with "accountability" and "transparency" on the tip of everyone's tongues -- from up in Albany to way down in the tiniest special taxing district here on Long Island, its amazing that New Yorkers can still see through all the smoke and mirrors.

Well, we can. Eyes wide open. And we do not like what we see.

Paralysis. Partisanship. Stalemate. Gridlock. Egos gone wild. The people's business cast aside like yesterday's newspaper (which pretty much had the same news as the day before).

Coalition and compromise.

Those were words, much like accountability and transparency, much bantered about in the State's Capitol.

Words. Only words. Signifying nothing, unless there's definitive and deliberate action to go with them.
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From the Office of Governor David Paterson:

Office Will Work to Eliminate Waste, Fraud and Abuse in State Government
Furthers Governor’s Mission to Reduce Spending and Increase Efficiency

Governor David A. Paterson today announced the creation of the Office of Taxpayer Accountability. As part of the Executive Chamber, the Office will have a full-time mission to save taxpayers money by lowering costs, sharing services, eliminating duplication, improving service delivery, limiting unnecessary and unfunded mandates, and attacking waste, fraud and abuse.

It will also have an ongoing focus on local government reform and implementing recommendations made by the Local Government Commission on Efficiency and Competitiveness and the Property Tax Commission.

“The Office of Taxpayer Accountability will be a watchdog on behalf of taxpayers to hold State government accountable for how every tax dollar is spent,” said Governor Paterson. “At a time when resources are limited, this group will be dedicated every day of the year to ensuring that the State is stretching each dollar as far as we can, and making decisions that do not further burden New York taxpayers unnecessarily. The Office will be a resource for our local governments and other groups that have ideas on how the State can better work with them to use our resources more efficiently. This Office will include some of my most senior advisors to send a strong message that I am making accountability to taxpayers a high priority of my Administration.”

Governor Paterson has been leading the charge for fiscal discipline – pushing for enactment of a State spending cap, pension reform, and property tax relief. The Office of Taxpayer Accountability is a natural extension of those efforts. The new Office of Taxpayer Accountability will be led by the First Deputy Secretary to the Governor Valerie Grey. The dedicated team will include Deputy Secretaries, Division of Budget, Intergovernmental Affairs, Counsel’s Office, and State agency experts.

The areas of focus will include:

Waste, Fraud and Abuse
Shared State Operations
Local Government Mandates
Local Government Savings and Efficiencies

“Providing relief to taxpayers is one of my highest priorities as Governor,” said Governor Paterson. “The cost of State and local government is out of control. Families across this State are re-evaluating their budgets and finding every way to save money – it is time for New York State government to do the same. The same level of scrutiny that regular New Yorkers apply to their budgets will be applied to New York State government.”

The Office of Taxpayer Accountability will have an ongoing focus on finding creative ways to lower State and local property taxes. It will consult with the public and outside experts and hold a series of roundtable discussions.

Specific responsibilities of the Office will include:

Elimination of Waste, Fraud and Abuse

State agency operations will be regularly reviewed and checked to identify and limit opportunities for waste, fraud or abuse. Internal auditing of agencies will be monitored and coordinated to target resources and provide focused attention. Stricter controls and guidelines on purchases like cars, cell phones, blackberries, and copiers will be adopted. As a taxpayer watchdog the goal will be to prevent fraud and abuse but when suspected cases are discovered the Office will refer to the appropriate authorities and ensure follow-up actions are taken.

Shared State Operations

A new Council on Shared State Operations will be established to oversee the development of a “shared services” model chaired by the First Deputy Secretary to the Governor and co-chaired by the Director of State Operations and the Director of the Budget. This Council will centralize back-office operations creating cost-savings and simultaneously improving the services offered. This practice is standard among private sector firms. Almost every State agency has their own departments for human resources, asset management, procurement, financial management, information technology and customer service. Responsibility for common agency administrative functions will be centralized to achieve better control, costs savings and efficiencies.

Consolidating these functions will allow agencies to focus on their core missions. In many cases, local governments can also tap into these shared arrangements and achieve savings.

Local Government Mandates

Mandates represent a significant cost for local governments and drives property tax burdens. The Governor issued Executive Order Number 17 that requires a full evaluation of the costs of mandates on local governments stemming from proposed regulation and legislation from the Executive Chamber or State agencies. State agencies are also charged with reviewing existing regulations for mandates by December 1, 2009. The Office of Taxpayer Accountability will ensure compliance with the Governor’s executive order.

Local Government Savings and Efficiencies

The Local Government Commission on Efficiency and Competitiveness and the Property Tax Commission had extensive deliberations and produced comprehensive recommendations to reduce local costs and provide taxpayer savings. Many of the reforms already advanced by the Governor are recommendations made by the Commissions (such as the property tax cap, Tier 5 pension, simplifying and unifying the local government consolidation process, contracting flexibility, Wicks law changes and improving cooperative health benefit plans). The Office will implement remaining Commission recommendations and integrate them in everyday business (i.e. Local Government Efficiency Grants and other State government programs). The Office will also encourage local government reform and cost savings by facilitating communication between local governments, State agencies and associations through a secure bulletin board that would allow stakeholders to share best practices and learn from each other.

1 comment:

  1. There's more than a little irony to this sudden passion for transparency, given that the most recent New York state budget emerged as an outgrowth of one of the LEAST transparent budget processes in recent memory.