Forty-five years ago, Gov. Marvin Mandel initiated a major restructuring of state government. Over time, duplication of authority and effort had gotten out of hand. The state’s huge, unwieldy bureaucracy had grown to 248 separate agencies and departments. Mandel succeeded in combining them into a total of only 11 departments.

According to Gov. Larry Hogan and his Maryland Business Regulatory Commission, what Mandel was able to accomplish has been slowly but inexorably eroded over the decades, and the time has come to once again do a major overhaul.

We support this important initiative aimed at making the state’s regulatory process more efficient and effective, and customer-service more friendly to both individuals and businesses.

In a recent story on this development, The Daily Record wrote that the commission’s first report to the governor “called the current system of overlapping and confusing regulations unwieldy and a ‘compelling systemic issue’ reminiscent of the complicated governmental system that was overhauled 45 years ago by then-Gov. Marvin Mandel.”

The issue, according to the report, is that “This overlapping regulatory jurisdiction of multiple state agencies causes unnecessary delays and expense for many applicants and a considerable loss of productivity for state employees, agencies.”

Hogan is also stressing the importance of proper and timely customer service in the entire state government community. As he sees it, the customer, whether an individual, group or business, is often treated poorly: “We want to change the mindset that you’re guilty until proven innocent,” he said. Government’s job, Hogan continued, is not to tell the public that it can’t do something or how government is going to thwart people’s plans, but rather to say, “How can we assist you in meeting the regulations and accomplishing what you’re trying to accomplish?”

We don’t believe the findings and recommendations of this committee to date cast aspersions on rank-and-file state workers, or suggest that they are rude, unresponsive or negligent. We believe most are diligent, thoughtful and helpful when working with the public, and many Marylanders have had very positive experiences when dealing with state employees. It is the unwieldy system itself in which these public employees work that needs reforming.

According to a story on MarylandReporter.com, “The commission found agencies and departments with overlapping authority, creating duplicative review of plans and permits.” That may come as no surprise to those who have experienced difficulty and delays in dealing with the state’s convoluted regulatory system.

The report contained a number of specific recommendations to improve customer service, including this simple but powerful standard operating procedure: Respond to all phone calls, emails and letters within 24 hours. That alone would be a huge improvement and a good beginning to any interaction with the public.

The commission dug into state regulations in an effort to find specific examples of duplication and other forms of inefficiency, as well as rules that defied common sense. One regulation they uncovered involved vineyards at which, the committee reported, “wine and (hard) cheese could not be served to the public on the premises unless special equipment was installed for draining oils from grilled cheese — even though the cheese was not being grilled.” Imagine how frustrating that would be to a vineyard that wanted to host a wine-tasting event that was to include hard cheeses that complemented its various wines.

This commission has traveled around the state, says MarylandReporter.com, where it has made six stops that included more than 24 hours of hearings attended by in excess of 450 people.

Hogan says that while he was campaigning for governor, one of the more frequent complaints he heard involved the state’s slow, cumbersome, unresponsive regulatory system — “even more than taxes were too high.” In a state where high taxes are vociferously decried on a regular basis, getting upstaged by a poorly performing regulatory process indicates it’s a real problem. In this case, the public aren’t getting what they pay for.

The commission is expected to continue its work over the next three years, but some of its initial recommendations may find their way into Hogan’s 2016 legislative package.

That 24-hour deadline for responding to inquiries from the public would be a great place to start.

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