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LePage proposes ‘secret shoppers’ agency to measure performance

Posted Sept. 04, 2011, at 1:07 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 04, 2011, at 8:21 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage will propose creation of a new state agency within his office in the second session of the legislature. The Office of Policy and Management will take some of the existing planning office functions and add new ones to assure programs are being managed efficiently.

“Whether it is an inspector general, or an office of management and budget, which is what we are trying to implement now, we are going down that path,” LePage said last month. “We need that type of office.”

He said when he was manager of Marden’s they used “secret shoppers” to measure employee performance and to check on whether stores were implementing policies. The shoppers were company employees that posed as shoppers and developed valuable data for company management.

“We need that in state government, “he said. “ We need to know what is really happening.”

Jonathan Nass, a senior policy adviserto LePage, is working on the details of the proposal that will go to the legislature in January. He said the new agency will focus on government policies and the management of the programs to implement those policies, but will not include the budget function which will remain in the Department of Finance and Administrative Services.

“One example might be this zero-based budgeting,” he said, “that is on a separate track but that is the type of activity where a relatively small group of professionals could assist governmentwide and make sure there is consistency and that we are really trying to manage government in a way that makes it efficient.”

Nass said the governor strongly believes he needs a better tool to assess the way various programs are being managed, both within agencies and those programs and policies that transcend a single agency. He said unlike the legislature’s Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, the new office would look at programs in a more systematic way, and not “the issue of the day” that OPEGA probes.

Nass said an example of that more systematic look might be a review of all the various groups and associations that state agencies are members.

“We are not sure we have a handle on how many of these we belong to,” he said. “We could start with identifying all of them and then ask should we belong to them. What are we getting for being a member of a particular group?”

Nass said an inspector general type of function is needed in an organization with thousands of workers and hundreds of managers in programs providing a wide range of services and functions.

“Too often, under management, mid-level management, are going to report up good news,“ he said. “This is a way for the governor to connect directly with the front lines of government and do it in a way that you are going to get an honest and first hand account of how government is actually working.”

Nass said he had met with members of a working group looking at the current state planning office and how to re-allocate its functions to other agencies and focus on its core responsibilities. He also spoke with members of the legislature’s State and Local Government Committee about the governor’s vision of a new office.

“I think we are very interested in looking at what the Governor proposes and how it would work,“ said Sen. Doug Thomas, R-Ripley, the co-chairman of the committee. “I can see many programs through out all of government that I would like to see looked at.”

He said many state officials have complained to him about the Office of Information Technology that oversees the state’s various computer systems. He said several have complained about the high cost of equipment and services.

“They want to know why a computer costs so much when they can get it cheaper at Staples,” he said.

Thomas said he is not ready to endorse any new agency in government, but he is willing to consider the legislation in January. That is also the position of House Minority Leader Emily Cain, D-Orono.

“I think we should carefully look at all proposals,“ she said, “but we don’t have a proposal yet, we have an idea. I look forward to the details when the governor submits this to the next session.”

Nass said legislation is in the drafting state and has not yet been submitted to the governor for his approval.

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