A more efficient government. Who hasn’t dreamed of such a thing? What politician hasn’t run on the repeated refrain, however tangentially, that government should run more like a business? What candidate hasn’t touted their private-sector credentials as proof of electability?

The truth is that private business isn’t a good model for operating a representative democracy — they’re as different as a car mechanic and a neurosurgeon. After all, you wouldn’t want a brain surgeon changing the timing belt on your 2007 Honda Odyssey. Even more so, would you happily submit to a car mechanic removing a brain tumor? Probably not.

Public service is its own unique pursuit, and while we may bemoan “career politicians,” there’s something to be said for men and women who are specialized in understanding the complicated interplay of our government institutions.

That’s why we’re glad Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, has appointed Robert R. Neall to a new position in his administration dedicated to making Maryland government more efficient, less tangled and more streamlined. It is a role for which he is ideally suited. Neall served on Hogan’s transition team. Before that he was minority leader in the House, then Anne Arundel County executive, then served in the Maryland Senate. He’s well respected on both sides of the aisle and is, as The Baltimore Sun described him, “one of the state’s sharpest minds on fiscal matters.”

He’s a political wonk, for sure; he described himself as a “nerd.”

“Budget dweebs like me just love an opportunity like this to get under the hood and try to make some changes and get away with it,” Neall was quoted by The Daily Record as saying.

“For a budget and functional organization person like me, this is a dream job,” he said. “My assignment is to look at the future and what a future government might look like, a 21st-century government. This assignment will be a great deal about the future.”

Maryland’s lawmakers have for years prided themselves on the number of regulations they can enact without any regard for quality, and throw out new policies like confetti at a wedding. These have accreted over the years with departments and commissions and other stratum of antediluvian organization. The last review of state government was under Gov. Marvin Mandel’s administration in the 1970s.

“Unfortunately, over the past 40 years, our state government has again gotten off track, becoming increasingly more cumbersome, unwieldy and out of control — with more than 20 executive-branch Cabinet departments, 70 independent agencies, over 550 commissions and boards and a workforce of state employees that has skyrocketed,” Hogan said.

When you say it like that, it does indeed sound like a lot. This could, of course, just be a little political hubris — Hogan’s a Republican, after all, and waving the Big Government red flag plays well with his base. It’s possible that each of those different areas has become justified after four decades of growth and three times the population. That’ll be up to Neall to investigate. The reality is that inefficiency, bureaucracy and waste exist in any large organization, private business included. That isn’t to say Neall’s mission is pointless. Every organization needs an ombudsman to set straight the crooked line when found, to push for reform, and to hold feet to the fire, to use a cliché.

But while we wish Neall the best, we would advocate to those hoping for sweeping reforms that they scale back their expectations. The civil service bureaucracy, state employee unions and pro-government lawmakers are certain to resist real reform. Change may come. Whether it will trim back Maryland’s Gordian entanglements is up for debate.

(3) comments

jerseygrl42

Hopefully Mr. Neall's first target for TERMINATION will be the Northeast MD Waste Disposal Authority which has lied and ripped off the taxpayers for too many years and its ONLY interest is in lining its pockets with the public's $$$$...their primary target has always been to sponsor the building of incinerators because they create huge fees to this agency.....as an example , had they (and Marschner) been successful in pushing thru the Frederick incinerator they would have collected fees in excess of $25 MILLION out of our taxes and Marscher the liar who repeatedly told the citizens of this county that we were not on the hook to pay back the debt created by the incinerator is believe it or not still on the payrolls of this county to the tune of $71 / per hour...shameful

DickD

The problem with government is it is too hard to fire anyone. Some work hard, some don't even work. So, they hire contractors to do what they should be doing.

vicdavy

Good editorial. When someone bemoans the label of "politician" and prefers a businessman I have to laugh. CEO is the opposite of a politician. Understanding the workings of government and intricacies of the system is very different. I remember when Ross Perot ran for President. He was a CEO who did not understand politics and thought he could order people around without regard for the compromise and negotiations required in a democracy. Today we have another CEO type who just talks trash and says nothing! I'll stick with Honest Public Servant Politicians, like Bernie Sanders!

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