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Legislature is off to a fast start

The legislature started midweek and we’re off to a fast start.

The ceremonial activities had barely been completed and the Senate Health and Human Services committee that I sit on was already meeting, hearing from some of the state agencies on their strategic plans for the next year.

Since the legislature meets only four months a year, 100 legislators arrive in Denver each January with our own ideas of how the state can do a better job serving its citizens. We’ve been in touch with our constituents over the interim and have heard about their experiences with state government. Usually, the bulk of what we hear is what’s not working well and that motivates us to seek change, whatever form that might take.

Not all of these legislative ideas are good ones, but the debate and voting process within the legislature, especially under split political party control, weeds out some of the least workable ideas.

Bureaucracies are not known for seeking change and that often leads to considerable tension when the legislators return to Denver with their ideas for improvement.

With term limits and election turnover keeping legislators’ time at the Capitol fairly brief, I’ve wondered if some state agencies cope with this tension by internally deciding that if they just wait it out, the particular legislators with the new ideas will be gone soon enough and they really won’t have to change after all.

Other legislators also felt too much of a disconnect between the legislative and executive branches as it relates to serving our same citizens. Two years ago, a bill passed with strong bipartisan support, called the “State Measurement for Accountable, Responsive, and Transparent (SMART) Government Act.” That’s a pretty fancy and optimistic title for a piece of legislation, but I voted for it as I saw it as hopefully encouraging a more productive way to bring the legislative and executive branches of government in alignment on the goals of serving our mutual constituents.

It’s standard practice that the agencies report annually to the legislative committees charged with oversight of those agencies. Under the new approach fully in place this year, though, there are a lot more specifics to be provided by the agencies to the legislators. With the more detailed agency plans and strategies, the goal is that legislative oversight of the executive branch will be more interactive and informed than in the past.

This kind of strategic planning often occurs in the private sector, whether a large corporation or a small mom and pop business, but it’s new in state government, at least as it relates to the legislature on a year to year basis.

A fair question is whether this more intensive process of meetings and reporting by the agencies will create the desired accountability and productivity or whether it will only mean lots more meetings and reports earlier each January.

Colorado’s employees are a great asset to our state and a number of them have been also frustrated with the difficulties in making positive change occur. A clearer focus on performance results and not defaulting to the status quo is what businesses are doing across our country. A greater emphasis on this approach in the delivery of state government services should bring the accountability and effectiveness that citizens have been crying out for.

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