Several recent stories highlight the inefficiency of government and the often tragic results that follow. By April 20, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services had learned about a day care program operator who had hit a child with a flyswatter. Worse, the operator had a history of child care violations.
DHS delayed closing the facility until May 17, the day after the operator’s court hearing. Sadly, a boy at the day care center died that day. How many other kids suffered at the hands of this operator during the month-long delay? Why didn’t DHS or some other governmental agency act sooner?
The Legislature meets every year for about four months. It deals with the same departments and programs year after year. Virtually every leader in state government says education is most important, and every year education is funded last! Common sense should tell legislators what’s most important should be funded first, so school districts will know how much money they have for hires and rehires the following year. Yet, legislators waste time and money finishing the budget in the last days of May or later.
Speaking of schools, former Gov. Henry Bellmon spearheaded House Bill 1017 nearly 18 years ago with two purposes: reduce the number of school districts and elevate teacher pay to the regional average. Where are we today? Still at the bottom on pay, and with virtually the same number of school districts. State leaders also have acknowledged we have too many public colleges and universities. Funding for all of them waters down funding for the best and most productive. Yet, we’re adding campuses across the state.
How is it government takes longer and uses more dollars to build anything than the private sector? A few years back, the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority built several new roads, only to have to resurface them. When your only job is road building, and you’ve been doing it for decades, you should know how to do it right the first time. The Oklahoma Teachers’ Retirement System has been underfunded for years, yet every legislative session, little or nothing is done to resolve the problem. The same holds true for tort reform.
Then there’s the recent study that proudly announced Oklahoma’s high school graduation rate was 70.4 percent ” five-tenths of a point above the national average! By the way, the numbers represented the 2003-2004 school year ” research that’s nearly four years old. The findings indicated the dropout problem begins in ninth grade and that students do best in small classes with individual attention, mirroring God knows how many other studies done over the last 40 years.
The federal government moved at lightning speed to create the Sarbanes-Oxley Act after the Enron and WorldCom scandals, but seems unable to address campaign-finance reform. Former President Richard Nixon talked about making America energy independent as a result of the Seventies oil embargo, yet today we import even more oil.
The farther government gets from the people, the less productive and slower it acts. Cities move faster than counties, which move faster than states, which move faster than the federal government. What’s the difference in government and business? In the private sector, we pay for performance, not reports. Given America’s growth, productivity and strength, all financed by the success of business and individuals, shouldn’t we begin to demand governmental leadership and courage of the same quality?
Orza is dean of the MeindersSchool of Business at Oklahoma CityUniversity.