Please Hold Your Applause Until the End
By Deb Jordahl
Legend has it that way back in 2005, under the leadership of Governor Jim Doyle, the state of Wisconsin could save $200 million, through efficiencies in state contracting - for everything from prison food and travel to consolidation of the state’s email service. Four years later, the states of Wisconsin and Minnesota--- working together to find efficiencies in the same areas ---hope to save $10 million each. Now Governor Doyle only needs to find 500 more ways to save $10 million and he’ll eliminate his $5 billion budget deficit.
Of course, there’s always a bit of a chasm between legend and truth. In the legend of the Doyle ACE initiative, we’ll never know just how wide the chasm is since Doyle dropped the program like a hot potato amid allegations of corruption, agency in-fighting, cost over-runs and one failed computer project after another.
It feels like déjà vu all over again: a down economy and years of excessive spending leave Wisconsin with a huge budget deficit the year before the Governor’s re-election. The Governor, a resourceful, can-do guy, proposes a bold initiative to save tens of millions of dollars by leveraging the state’s purchasing power and consolidating government contracts to drastically lower the state’s costs, the only difference this time is he’s promising to save $190 million dollars less and sharing the credit/blame with Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota.
The ever optimistic press corps has given the Governors two extensive media splashes since they announced their joint venture in January. This weekend’s Wisconsin State Journal features and editorial cartoon of the two states shaking hands with the caption: “Wisconsin and Minnesota will have to think bigger and break through the bureaucratic roadblocks if their collaboration plan is to fulfill its promise.”
After reviewing the piece I had two thoughts:
1. Minnesota should check to make sure it still has all its fingers.
2. It wasn’t bureaucratic roadblocks that failed Doyle’s ACE initiative.
Given Governor Doyle’s penchant for blaming others for his mistakes, Pawlenty should not be surprised when Wisconsin points an accusing peninsula at Minnesota for failing to cooperate fully in cost saving programs.
As for those bureaucrats, history has revealed that Doyle would have done well to seek their input before launching into new contracts and consulting agreements. Instead, Doyle’s latest budget eliminates a law requiring state agencies to perform cost savings analysis to ensure taxpayer money isn't wasted on contracting.
Doyle says the law adds another layer of bureaucracy to the process, but it was Doyle who signed the measure into law and Doyle who is now proposing to remove it without consulting the “bureaucrats” responsible for the process. The danger for Doyle is that his complete lack of regard for these employees is likely to come back to haunt him when things don’t go as planned.
Doyle did learn some lessons from his first cost savings debacle: get a partner, significantly lower expectations, and make it as hard as possible to tell whether it has been worth doing or not.
As for the media, I wished they’d learn to hold their applause until the end.
-April 9, 2009