Requiring More Approvals Is Not The Government Reform We Need

David Shenk was recently appointed by county legislators to the position of Erie County, NY Comptroller. Shenk is now running for election for a four year term. In every election for Erie County Comptroller the issues always revolve around:
1) Being independent from the Erie County Executive
2) Being a strong taxpayer “watchdog”

In a recent interview Comptroller Shenk explained that one of the reforms he is implementing is “I want to double the number of signatures employees need to spend and account for taxpayer money.”

As a government employee myself for 17 years, I know how frustrating and inefficient the bureaucracy can be. To get anything done in government typically requires multiple levels of approval. Doubling the number of signatures needed to spend and account for money is not the type of reform needed in government. I understand the need for controls to ensure that public funds are not stolen. Instead of simply doubling signatures, I would love to see a Comptroller go beyond tracking dollars and use their office to improve the efficiency and performance of government by conducting Performance Audits.

Performance audits examine programs, functions, operations or the management systems and procedures to assess whether an entity is achieving economy, efficiency and effectiveness in the employment of available resources. Just like Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, Performance Audits have standards and methods that are followed.

The Charter in Pierce County Washington requires that performance audits of county departments be completed. Below is part of the Pierce County Charter:

Performance audits, for example, may:
1. Determine the extent to which desired outcomes or results are being achieved, the causes for either achieving or not achieving intended outcomes or results, and whether County policy, laws, and rules are being complied with in an efficient and economical manner;
2. Analyze whether resources, such as personnel, property, and space, are being used economically and efficiently, and report the causes of any inefficiencies or uneconomical practices;
3. Examine the costs and benefits of County programs, departments, functions, and activities;
4. Identify viable and objective alternatives and recommendations for reducing costs, improving service delivery, and monitoring corrective action;
5. Determine the existence and utility of a department, agency, or program’s strategic plan, which includes comparing the department’s or program’s mission, measurable goals, and clear strategies with the timeliness to achieve those goals; and
6. Develop a workable, affordable plan for a department, program, activity, or function to improve performance and/or efficiency, where appropriate.

The City of Buffalo Charter requires that the City Comptroller conduct two performance audits per year utilizing an independent consultant. As far as I know this section of the City Charter has not been followed. The Erie County Charter also provides the Comptroller the authority to conduct management and performance audits, which if they have been conducted at all are a rare occurence at best.

Instead of creating more bureaucracy in government, perhaps we can get more Comptrollers at the local level to conduct performance audits in an effort to make government operations more efficient?

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Stephen Owens

Couldn’t agree more. I’ve only worked in local gov’t for less than a year but I’ve noticed the inefficiencies aren’t coming from the employees. They’re coming from legislators giving a ton of hoops to jump through that cost the taxpayers millions of extra dollars. If they want to decrease the size of government, the simple answer is to reduce the hoops.

For example, we have to update to new laptops in my department (12 yrs old) and since there is a “bid contract” that was won by a certain group, we have to buy through them. The laptop that meets our specifications is available online for $649 but through our contract, it costs us $1,149. How does that make sense?

I know the contract is cheaper overall, but the fact that I can’t buy the laptop and be reimbursed or we can’t buy it from the manufacturer directly is ridiculous. I know the contract exists to keep someone from buying it on a friend to friend basis, but paying double for something so the elected official can say they’re watch dogging is very inefficient. It already takes 90-180 days to get a PO cut and adding more signatures definitely wouldn’t reduce that.

Let’s reduce regulation, not increase it. There is a reason the word beauracracy is always associated with the government. Let’s hire good people and get out of their way…

Carol Davison

I’m not voting for Dave! Instead of spending taxdollars doubling approvals necesary to spend money he should spend them to ensure that money is spended effectively and efficiently. That’s not necessarily an auditing function. Its ensuring that you buy one kind of computer organization wide so you can swap pieces across the county, or maximizing tuition dollars by training county wide so that you fill class seats, in a word operating without excess. This sounds like a no brainer to me. Did I miss something?

James Hartley

Agreed. I am almost to the point where I consider the use of “forms” to be contraband, unless there is a legal requirement for a particular signed document. The oversight approval process should be as limited and automated as possible, showing chain of custody and control.

Here’s a good concept: Hold a few people accountable for all they do, rather than adding more people in the oversight process. Take swift action when anyone in an oversight position makes inappropriate decisions.