Coming next week: ideas to reform state agencies

Reporter Austin Jenkins of KUOW offered a piece this week about a government reform study under way in Washington state, particularly involving three natural resource agencies.

He quoted Gov. Chris Gregoire from her second inaugural address, in which she raised the issue: “We have three agencies managing natural resources, each with its own scientists standing in the same Washington stream. We need to reform and we will.”

When I heard the example of the scientists in the stream, my reaction was not to be alarmed about government inefficiency. Instead, it suggested to me that government officials — even at the highest levels — have no clue about how science works.

I would not be alarmed to see a bunch of scientists from even the same agency standing in that stream at different times. We could have, for example, a bunch of fisheries biologists, each focused on his own discipline — stock identification, population dynamics, pathology, behavior, genetics, not to mention regulatory duties.

We could have something similar for other state agencies, and then there are university scientists and independent researchers, all adding to what we know about that stream. OK, the stream would need to be especially important or interesting to warrant that much attention, but the number of scientists involved from one or more agencies says nothing about the need for government reform.

I have no doubt that Gov. Gregoire knows something about science, having served as director of the Washington Department of Ecology. I suspect that a speech writer working for her simply chose a poor example to make a point.

I’m sure the governor would agree that we don’t need clumsy reform conducted by people who fail to understand science or the inner workings of natural resource agencies. I felt reassured after talking to the governor’s policy director, Robin Arnold-Williams. Reform, she told me, may not mean consolidation of entire agencies.

“There might be realignments or better ways to share and coordinate,” she said. “The governor’s number-one priority is to improve service.”

I could speculate about the ways our natural resource agencies could better coordinate. But I am patient enough to wait until next week. That’s when a committee working on such reforms plans to release a list of ideas for review by the public and everyone involved.

First, comes a full discussion, Arnold-Williams said. After that, the best recommendations will be forwarded to the governor, commissioner of public lands and the Fish and Wildlife Commission, who could well make some significant changes.

Stay tuned. This could be interesting.

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