Montgomery council discusses challenges of restructuring county government
Turf battles, bureaucracy hinder making government operate more efficiently
There appears to be consensus among Montgomery County's elected officials that the government could operate more efficiently. How to implement changes that would affect the day-to-day operations, however, is much less clear.
On Tuesday, the Montgomery County Council found that even small-scale changes, such as ensuring all county agencies are buying pens from the same supplier or using the same level of technology, quickly can become mired in turf battles and bureaucratic haggling.
The council discussed 28 recommendations by the Organizational Reform Commission, which formed last year and determined $30 million could be saved this year by eliminating redundancies and inefficiencies within county government.
The commission estimated hundreds of millions of dollars could be saved during the course of time.
A discussion Tuesday about whether the county government's $180 million technology services could report to a single chief information officer raised concerns that agencies such as Montgomery County Public Schools would not comply.
Councilman Craig L. Rice (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown said individual departments and agencies are using different technology. Rice, who majored in computer science in college, described some of the technology being used as ancient and inefficient.
Individual agencies are concerned about losing control of their own technology use, he said, but a single chief information officer serving multiple agencies would be more efficient.
A proposal to streamline purchasing across county agencies raised similar concerns.
A council committee is supporting a one-year pilot effort in which a temporary shared services coordinator would oversee purchasing. County agencies already have streamlined paper and energy-efficient vehicle procurement.
"It's taken this long to realize that maybe we ought to be buying all of these things together," Councilman George L. Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park said, referring to items such as pens, software and tires.
He described resistance as a turf battle within county government, with each agency concerned about maintaining control of its own operations.
"As this lingering recession continues, perhaps our need to move ahead and save money without affecting service will overpower our concerns about the very sensitive and delicate feelings of these agency [leaders]," Leventhal said.
Among the commission's other recommendations was to study whether the county needs 86 boards, committees and commissions. Volunteers serve on the commissions that study issues such as recreation needs, but county staff support their work at a cost.
Leventhal had a similar proposal two years ago to eliminate 12 of the volunteer commissions, which he said was not supported by County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) or the council.
At the time, Leggett's office said the effort would not save money.
"That wasn't true," Leventhal said Tuesday. "And it isn't true now."
Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Kathleen Boucher predicted a different result this time.
"We are now two years down the road," she said. "We've lost 1,500 positions. We have county employees who are drowning in their work."
Leggett has included some of the commission's recommendations in his proposed fiscal 2012 budget, which was released March 15.
However, Councilwoman Nancy M. Navarro (D-Dist. 4) of Silver Spring said she does not expect many of the reforms to be implemented in the fiscal 2012 budget, but said more could be done in time for fiscal 2013.