Cabinet-level thinking: Or, Labor vs. Workforce

December 16, 2018

Eight years ago, when Republican Susana Martinez was preparing to become governor, she had plans to consolidate several departments under the governor’s control. For instance, she wanted to combine the state Tourism Department with the Economic Development Department, fold the Department of Information Technology into the General Services Department and merge the departments of Public Safety and Homeland Security.

But none of the bills to combine state agencies ever got off the ground. Martinez was still paying lip service to the idea in her second term. And I believe there was a lot of merit to the idea. But nothing ever happened.

The late great Rep. Luciano “Lucky” Varela told me in 2011 that some of the entrenched agencies pushed back hard on reorganization attempts. Varela, who had sat on a legislative task force studying the idea, said most of the agencies focused on justifying the status quo instead of reporting to the task force what could be done to increase government efficiency.

Now we’ve got a new governor coming in, and as my colleague Andrew Oxford pointed out in an article last month, Gov.-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham in 2010 was a member of a task force that recommended several such consolidations of state departments. However, during this year’s campaign there was little, if any, discussion of such proposals.

Actually, I hope Lujan Grisham doesn’t spend time and energy on trying to reorganize the executive branch. She’s got much bigger fish to fry. (Sorry to any members of PETA if that statement offended anyone.)

But one thing I wish she and the Legislature would do is change the names of a couple of departments.

First start with the Workforce Solutions Department. That one used to be called the “Labor Department,” a perfectly fine name. But sometime during Bill Richardson’s administration, it was changed to the more bureaucratic-sounding name. Nobody’s quite sure why. In fact, one former official with the department told me that when he traveled around the state after the name change, people thought “Workforce Solutions” was a private employment agency.

Then there’s the unwieldy name of the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department. Why does the word “minerals” have to be there. Minerals are a natural resource, and many of them make energy.

But it’s possible the government might be tempted to go in the other direction and revive an old proposal to consolidate this agency with the departments of environment and game and fish. That could be fun. Maybe they could call the resulting superagency the “Department of Environment, Energy, Game, Natural Resources, Minerals and Fish.”

Also, there’s the name of the Children, Youth and Families Department. (Aren’t all children considered youth?) But since I don’t want to be haunted by the ghost of Alice King, I won’t go into that.

Nobody wants to sign my pledge: Last week I made a proposal for legislators. Inspired by soon-to-be-former Reps. Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque and Bill McCamley, D-Mesilla Park, neither of whom would accept free drinks, meals or gifts from lobbyists, there should be a Grover Norquist-style pledge that any lawmaker could sign, formally declaring they won’t take freebies from lobbyists.

The response from legislators was overwhelming.

Overwhelmingly silent.

Usually I get some kind of feedback — sometimes blowback — from legislators when I write about their branch of government. But last week, nada, at least from anyone who’s going to be serving in next year’s Legislature. Not a single phone call, letter, email, website comment, Facebook like, Twitter heart or retweet.

I was hoping at least for some lawmaker to present me with some weird logic and claim that free lunches from lobbyists actually help his or her constituents.

Either they all hated the idea, realizing such a pledge could end up costing them hundreds of dollars during a 60-day session if they stopped letting lobbyists pick up their meal tabs, or they liked the idea but didn’t want to offend lobbyists. Or maybe some of them were looking forward to the annual ski passes and golf passes lobbyists give lawmakers every year.

Or maybe none of them read the column. That hurts my ego, but I can understand.

I did, however, get some good reaction from private citizens. So if you like the idea, tell your representative or senator that they should take the “No goodies from lobbyists” pledge.

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