Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Gov eliminating waste, fraud and abuse

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SANTA FE – "I will eliminate waste, fraud and abuse." It's the popular refrain heard from every politician running for office. Gov. Susana Martinez seems determined to actually do it.
She immediately took out after waste in state government. She declined to fill many political appointee positions from the Bill Richardson administration – even after Richardson already had cut over 100 of a reported 500 political appointees. Martinez's appointees are considerably below the level during Gary Johnson's fiscally prudent administration.
The governor also has continued the modified hiring freeze from the last two years of the Richardson administration. Vacant positions are not filled unless their need can be demonstrated.
Gov. Martinez has been similarly frugal with supplies, equipment and the state's motor pool. We don't know about her policy on saving paper clips but she did turn back to the general fund a considerable amount from her office at the end of the fiscal year.
Alleged fraudulent use of taxpayer money was a cornerstone of Martinez's campaign a year ago. Since taking office, she has made new appointments wherever she can to guard against future occurrences.
The governor has been after abuse also. Her current target is denial of flextime for state employees. Previously employees were allowed to work alternative schedules in which they arrived or left either early or late as long as they worked eight hours.
One benefit of the alternate schedules to Santa Feans has been that commuter traffic has been spread over two hours instead of having massive traffic jams at 8 a.m., noon and 5 p.m. Gov. Martinez says she will allow cabinet secretaries to grant exceptions. Reportedly those have been rather stingy. Some employees say they will have to quit their jobs because of child care problems.
An Albuquerque television station reported on a cabinet secretary who said his first day on the job he heard a jangle of phones ringing throughout the office at 4:30 and learned that everyone had gone home at 4 p.m.
Obviously that is a problem in need of correction. But the solution may be overdone. A report last night on the TV news said a recent study has found that working women are more productive and happier when they can work alternative schedules.
The memorandum that went to employees rescinding flex time reportedly cited budgetary reasons. That is difficult to figure unless unsupervised employees are less productive causing a need to hire more employees.
More recently, I have heard the governor's office say it is a customer service problem because there are fewer staff to take care of people needing assistance. That appears to be an indication that there are some jobs that may not work with flextime.
Coverage during the noon hour also can be a problem. That is the only free time some people have. Phones that don't get answered until 1:15 are another evidence of poor customer service. It was a major concern of former Gov. Jerry Apodaca. He decreed a 55-minute lunch hour. Restaurants in the vicinity of the Capitol featured 55-minute lunch hour specials guaranteed to get state workers back to the office on time.
Gov. Apodaca made sure his edict was followed. He personally sat at his desk and called several agencies each day at 1 p.m. And he usually asked to speak to the boss to be sure someone was taking attendance.
So Gov. Martinez is making a better stab than any past governor at curbing waste, fraud and abuse. And I'll lay you odds she's not through. The word is that she is looking at telecommuting from Albuquerque offices. The Public Education Department already has closed its Albuquerque office. Maybe she'll look at teleconferencing to eliminate travel between Albuquerque and Santa for meetings.
One final note. State employees are good people. They don't want to see other employees abusing the system. What happens in state government happens in any bureaucracy.
Let's not get carried away.


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