Trudging toward efficiency

The only process that seems to grind more slowly than the wheels of justice is bureaucratic reform, especially when the goal is government efficiency.

Earlier this month Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen issued a ruling that finally should expedite plans initiated more than a year ago to consolidate nine state agencies, thereby saving taxpayers about $2 million a year.

This newspaper agrees with Mr. Jepsen's ruling, which deals with the authority of the Office of Governmental Accountability (OGA), but wished it hadn't taken so long to resolve an interdepartmental dispute.

The issue revolves around Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's proposal, adopted by the state legislature in 2011, to merge nine formerly independent agencies into one, the OGA. Unfortunately, this legislation created potential conflicts by linking the three most important watchdogs in state government - the Freedom of Information Commission, which sees that documents and meetings are open to the public; the Elections Enforcement Commission, charged with ensuring candidates abide by campaign laws; and the Office of State Ethics.

Under this model, the governor would be picking an administrator who in the event of suspected improper or illegal activities could be charged with investigating his own office.

To address that concern legislative leaders created a Government Accountability Commission and gave it the authority to assess the performance of and fire, if necessary, the top OGA official.

David L. Guay, the OGA's first executive administrator, objected to that oversight and insisted he should report only to the governor, who appointed him.

The issue eventually wound up in the lap of the attorney general, who ruled Dec. 13 that the Government Accountability Commission does in fact have such oversight.

"The GAC has the authority to terminate the employment of the executive administrator. Surely if the legislature intended to confer the power to terminate, it must have meant to allow the GAC to set expectations and to evaluate whether the executive administrator has met such expectations before exercising its termination power. To conclude otherwise would create a nonsensical and unworkable obstacle to the GAC's exercise of its termination authority, and statutes must be construed to avoid such results," the attorney general determined.

As it turns out, Mr. Guay left the OGA and in October was appointed the first executive director of the state's Contracting Standards Board, which is one of the nine agencies merged under his old umbrella department.

Now, the main part still missing is the selection of a new OGA executive administrator.

This newspaper continues to urge the appointment be made cautiously but expeditiously. Saving money is important, but not at the expense of compromising integrity.

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