Inside the Capitol

Friday, August 13, 2004

Baking on the Squat

SANTA FE – Here’s an idea for Gov. Bill Richardson to aid his quest for areas of state government he can trim so he can use the savings for projects high on his priority list.
I have long watched a category of state employees the governor could wipe off the books without anyone noticing their absence. These payrollers are hidden deep within state government, far beyond contact with the real world. They are in charge of getting ready.
My mother-in-law, Genevieve Duncan, has an old country saying to describe them. It involves baking biscuits. In the rare event her biscuits don’t rise, she explains, “They squatted to rise, but baked on the squat.”
When Genevieve encounters people who seem to spend so much time getting ready to do something that they never get around to actually doing it, she’ll say, “Looks like they baked on the squat.”
These baked-on-the-squat government drones can be found in every department, doing nothing, but always getting ready to do something that sounds quite good. They don’t just sit around. They appear to be very busy going to meetings. Most of their meetings are held somewhere else.
One of the reasons for Santa Fe’s traffic problems is state employees, usually driving state cars, scurrying around town to their meetings. Santa Fe used to have one Capital complex, but as the number of people going to meetings grew, state buildings have spread south, to beyond the city limits.
As you have surmised by now, these meetings are “interdepartmental” and “cross-discipline.” That’s because there is so much need for “collaborating” to solve state problems.
Unfortunately, these folks can’t just get together and collaborate. They have to first be trained how to collaborate. We’d hate for our public servants to miscollaborate.
So that means much time is spent training. But it isn’t the kind of training you would expect. They don’t train people to accomplish a task; they train trainers how to train. And then they train each other in order to field test their train-the-trainers training.
Before participants can be accepted into the group, they must learn their sociological jargon. They don’t hold meetings; they “conduct dialogues.” They don’t talk to each other; they “share.” They don’t try to convince each other; they “seek joint ownership of ideas.”
This class of state employees can be found in middle management. But they don’t have titles that make them easily identifiable. It would be nice if that layer of state employees were called “government fat” so they could be easily line-itemed out of the state budget.
We aren’t talking here about the paper-shuffling employees sitting in little cubicles or in the middle of a huge room. Those aren’t “fat;” they are “red tape.”
They are administering all the laws and regulations that 112 legislators and over 1,000 state board and commission members promulgate. They actually work pretty hard at very tedious and boring jobs that don’t pay much.
These worker bees are paid bookkeeper wages to assure every form has been properly completed before an item is purchased, position filled or contract let. The reason for most of the rules they administer is to make government accountable for not giving any preferential treatment with taxpayer money. Those rules and regulations will likely only grow as years go by so the employees who administer them can never be cut.
But the trainers, collaborators and dialoguers make big bucks for never getting past the getting-ready stage. They can be removed. Just look for the people who are always on their way to a meeting and tell them not to bother coming back to the office.
Actually Gov. Richardson should hire my mother-in-law on a very short term contract. She could quickly spot the government fat that “baked on the squat” and have them out of there quicker than a pan of soggy biscuits.


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