Montgomery County may face battles after recommendation to thin out bureaucracy

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 1, 2011; 10:23 PM

In 2009, a few years after a body that has come to be known as the Commission on Commissions recommended getting rid of some of Montgomery County's scores of government advisory boards, a council member sponsored legislation to cut a few.

"It was completely gutted - not a single board or commission was reduced," said council member George L. Leventhal (D-At Large). His proposal targeted several county recreation advisory groups that the commission considered redundant.

On Tuesday another citizen advisory group, the Montgomery County _blankOrganizational Reform Commission, completed six months of work by handing the County Council a long list of suggestions for _blankhow officials could save vast sums by slashing duplication and improving its operations. Among the recommendations: rolling back a handful of Montgomery's 86 boards, committees and commissions.

The commission also called for making more information public on negotiations with public employee unions; pushing county agencies toward a more Internet-based, cloud-computing model to reduce information-technology costs; better cooperation on purchasing among government entities; and lobbying for a variety of legal changes in Annapolis covering public schools spending and other issues.

Commission co-chairman Richard Wegman said an early estimate found that adopting all the recommendations would save more than $30 million annually, including more than $2.5 million from cutting committees. A more detailed analysis could push total yearly savings into the hundreds of millions dollars, he said.

As the county seeks to close a budget gap of about $300 million this year, some officials warned that the reform commission's final report is threatened by the same dynamics that have undercut previous moves to streamline government, among them parochialism, bureaucratic inertia and political infighting.

Fiscal problems in play

But County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) and some members of the County Council said the depth of the county's fiscal problems makes this go-around different.

Backers said the commission's structure was designed to help speed adoption of the changes. According to the council resolution setting up the process, Leggett has until the end of February to accept the various proposals or to come up with a reform plan of his own that would save the same amount of money.

The council plans to vote on Leggett's government reform proposal, although the county's charter doesn't require such a vote. Any ideas Leggett does not include will go before the council as well, according to the resolution.

"Every aspect of this will get an up or down vote before the next budget is approved," said council member Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda), who pushed for creating the commission.

Leggett praised the commission - its members were appointed by the council and county executive - and said he plans to adopt most of its recommendations.

While "there may be some tweaking," Leggett said, "my view is they've done a pretty comprehensive job. . . . I like the overall approach.

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