Tag Archives: government reform

How many natural resource agencies do we need?

It will be interesting to see whether state employees and outside observers settle on more, fewer or the same number of natural resource agencies than we now have in Washington state. As I describe in a story in today’s Kitsap Sun, just about everything is on the table for review.

When I first moved here in the 1970s, we had a Department of Fisheries along with a Department of Wildlife. Enforcement officers were assigned to one agency or the other, but they often rendered assistance to their fellow officers downstream or out in the woods.

At some point in the past, I believe the state operated with a single Department of Fish and Game. Then after trying two agencies for a number of years, they merged into one again: the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

This time, we could see a greater shakeup, as Gov. Chris Gregoire has called for a review of all natural resource agencies. That means we would add into the discussion these departments: Ecology, Natural Resources, and Parks and Recreation.

Does it make sense to consolidate agencies for a greater sharing of limited resources or stay with a greater number of agencies to hone the mission of the organization. Does one way result in fewer managers, or do you just trade top-level directors for middle managers?

Would it be better to have law enforcement officers focused on specific duties, or should they all be cross-trained to do the same thing? Should State Patrol officers learn about trees, deer and fish and help out with poachers in the woods — or is this going too far?

I don’t know the answers, but I really am interested in the outcome. The analysis has begun within documents filed on a new Natural Resources Reform Web page linked from the Governor’s Web site. It’s clear there’s much work yet to be done.

As for the number of scientists who need to stand in a stream (see Water Ways, Sept. 3), I guess some people are promoting the notion that one person could collect stream data for all three. Folks at the Puget Sound Partnership have talked about standardizing water-quality data, for example, but this issue is more complex than that.

One thing that caught my attention is the number of programs related to natural resources outside of Fish and Wildlife, Ecology, Natural Resources, and Parks. These programs may be brought into one of the agencies resulting from the reorganization. Here are some of those programs and where they currently reside:

  • Shellfish, drinking water and nuclear waste: Department of Health
  • Growth management: Department of Commerce
  • Comprehensive land-use plans and ordinances: Growth Management Hearings Boards
  • Rates for energy and solid waste collection: Utilities and Transportation Commission
  • Fines and land-use permitting: Environmental Hearings Office — including Pollution Control Hearings Board, Shoreline Hearings Board, Hydraulic Appeals Board, Environmental and Land Use Board and Forest Practices Appeals Board

For those who have an inclination to delve into this issue, there are plenty of things to consider.

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.