A news service for the people of Michigan from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy

It is a serious miscalculation for any governor, Republican or Democrat, to believe they can institute major change in the direction of a state agency by applying sound management principles. No matter how well tuned the governor’s management skills are, or those of the people he appoints, the deck is stacked against them. Executives with a successful private-sector track record often believe they can get the same positive results in government by applying the same management techniques that have served them well in the past.

Most state employees recognize that with the double protection of union contracts and civil service rules they will be there long after any particular elected official is gone. The entrenchment of state agencies is particularly difficult to counter when employees have a certain policy or ideological bent. Such as is the case with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, of which I served as director of for nearly eight years. Many employees in that department believe they are serving a higher calling in protecting the environment, one that supersedes direction from elected and appointed officials.

Recognizing that department employees were often not responsive in dealing with the public, I required all employees to attend two days of customer service training provided by an outside contractor. I have come to the conclusion that I probably wasted taxpayer money in an attempt to teach employees to be more customer focused. Many business leaders from around the state have told me that agency personnel quickly reverted to their prior ways soon after I left that post.

The most effective way to ensure that long-term change occurs in state agencies is for the Legislature to pass laws that require agency personnel to act in a responsible manner. Senate Bill 272 is one piece of legislation that could accomplish this, requiring state agencies like MDEQ to follow the direction of elected officials and prohibiting bureaucrats from promulgating rules that are more stringent than federal regulations.Gongwer News Service, however, is reporting that Republicans in the Legislature have agreed with Gov. Snyder to "relax" the provisions in the bill. Sen. Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, told Gonger that new language for SB272, which has already passed the House and Senate with slight differences, could be changed when the bill comes before the Senate again.

The legislation is not anti-environment as it allows the Legislature to approve more stringent environmental requirements than what is required by federal law. Such decision making on important regulatory issues should be vested with elected officials who are accountable to voters. If Gov. Snyder is truly interested in making state government more customer focused, he should drop his opposition the legislation and send a strong signal to businesses in the state that they are not subject to the whims of an entrenched bureaucracy.     

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