Government efficiency hotline proving to be too inefficient


Published: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 at 7:15 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 at 7:15 p.m.

TALLAHASSEE — One tipster suggested the state cut heating bills by forcing government workers to wear more clothes. Another called the Florida government efficiency hotline to recommend incarcerating certain juveniles with adults to free up prison beds.

Employees with the state’s Get Lean Florida office, created in 2009, are not always sure what to do with such suggestions, and lack the authority to force changes at state agencies.

The result has been anything but efficient for a program set up to reduce government inefficiency.

“It is actually creating more inefficiencies because people don’t know who should be responding, how they should be responding,” said Rep. Patrick Rooney Jr., R-West Palm Beach. “You have various departments taking people off other tasks to work on this.”

So for the sake of government efficiency, Rooney recently filed legislation that would eliminate the government efficiency hotline.

It’s hard to spend much time in Tallahassee without hearing a speech about streamlining state government, to save money and stimulate the economy. Gov. Rick Scott said in his State of the State address Tuesday that he wants “a leaner, more effective government.”

But in a capital obsessed with cutting waste and making government run more like a business, the efficiency hotline may be a lesson in how the complex realities of running dozens of government agencies can defy easy solutions and simple rhetoric.

An analysis of calls to the efficiency hotline and comments submitted on the Web site www.getleanflorida.com prepared for Rooney’s bill found that 63 percent of the 2011 submissions were ruled invalid. Of the valid recommendations, 48 percent “remained open, awaiting a response from the affected agency.”

Get Lean Florida is part of the Florida Department of Financial Services, an office independent of the executive branch that has no authority to force changes at state agencies.

Many of the 1,382 suggestions submitted since June 2009 do not seem to merit much action anyway.

Most address the obvious: turning off lights, lowering thermostats, conserving office supplies and policing expense accounts.

One submission from last June reads: “My friends office is HOT all the time, yet some employees run an electric heater YEAR ROUND!!! make them wear extra clothing rather than waste valuable electricity and making everyone else suffer in this heat wave!”

The investigator noted the state already has a policy limiting space heaters and closed the case.

It is unclear if any of the suggestions have resulted in major cost savings.

Information on how much the hotline costs, how many employees it has and when the program began also was not immediately available Wednesday.

A spokeswoman for Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater did not return calls.

Rooney said the CFO’s office came up with the idea of eliminating the hotline but recently changed course. He withdrew the hotline repeal bill from a committee Wednesday at the CFO’s request.

The bill had been scheduled for a vote in the House Government Operations Subcommittee chaired by Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, who said after the meeting that he believes Atwater balked because “it could be perceived as closing access to government.”

In other words, an inefficient government efficiency hotline is better than no efficiency hotline at all.

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