Gov. Gregoire announces plan to consolidate state agencies, eliminate boards and commissions

Gov. Chris Gregoire today, along with members of the Transforming Washington’s Budget committee, announced her intention to consolidate state agencies and eliminate boards and commissions to cut costs and streamline state government. Gregoire’s proposals would reduce the number of state agencies included in her consolidation plan from 21 to nine, and are expected to save nearly $30 million while reducing the number of state positions by 125 over the next biennium.

“Out of necessity, our budget will be dominated by painful cuts as we balance a $4.6 billion shortfall,” Gregoire said. “To help offset that shortfall, we must put forward to the Legislature transformative ideas. I intend to do just that, and appreciate the thousands of suggestions submitted by Washingtonians, along with the work of our state’s Transforming Washington’s Budget committee — who spent months developing and proposing many of these strategies.”

Gregoire announced that she will continue to streamline the state’s natural resource agencies, consolidating the state’s 11 agencies down to five. Gregoire’s proposal includes:

— Consolidating the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the State Parks and Recreation Commission, the Recreation and Conservation Office and the law enforcement unit of the Department of Natural Resources into a new Department of Conservation and Recreation;

— Consolidating the work of the Columbia River Gorge Commission, the Pollution Liability Insurance Agency and the Department of Health’s reclaimed water program into the Department of Ecology;

— Moving the State Conservation Commission into the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation in the Department of Natural Resources; and

— Keeping the Puget Sound Partnership as the state agency solely focused on restoring the Puget Sound.

This action would result in $2.5 million in savings, as well as the elimination of 14 positions.

To eliminate duplication and increase efficiency in the business functions of state agencies, Gregoire also proposes that the Departments of General Administration, Personnel, Printing, and portions of the Department of Information Services and the Office of Financial Management merge into a new Department of Enterprise Services. The new agency will provide the “back office” services now administrated by each agency. OFM will continue to handle policy, budget, forecasting and labor relations, and DIS will continue to provide computing services, telecommunications, and network administration and security services.

“At the new department, we will emphasize competition to get the best price for critical services,” Gregoire said.

With this consolidation, Gregoire expects to reduce the number of agencies from five to three, save $18.3 million, and eliminate 95 positions.

“We must also act to continue critical state efforts that otherwise would not survive this budget crisis,” Gregoire said. “Many of our minority and civil rights commissions have been decimated by deep across-the-board cuts. Quite frankly, more cuts would make the underlying mission — to represent those who are traditionally unrepresented — virtually impossible.”

To protect services provided to our diverse communities, Gregoire proposes consolidating the state’s Human Rights Commission, Office of Minority and Women’s Business Enterprise, Commission on African Affairs, Commission on Hispanic Affairs and Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs into a single Office of Civil Rights, a new agency that will continue their vital work but eliminate redundant administrative overhead and duplicative expenses.

This action will reduce the state workforce by 16 positions, and save $1.4 million.

Over the last two years, Gregoire has reduced the number of Boards and Commissions by 30 percent by eliminating 143. Gregoire will continue this effort in the upcoming legislative session and introduce a bill to further eliminate 36 boards and commissions and move appointment authority for 16 boards from the Governor’s office to state agencies.

“Taken together, these actions will eliminate 351 appointments,” Gregoire said. “While these boards were created with good intentions, they take time and resources to manage, which we can no longer afford.”

Gregoire’s plan to reduce the number of boards and commission is expected to save more than $7.4 million over the next biennium.

“Moving forward, we must keep looking for more ways to make maximum use of public services — whether paid for with state, federal or local tax dollars,” Gregoire said. “We believe there are significant savings opportunities in coordinating our use of state prisons and local jails.”

Gregoire said today the Department of Corrections is currently working with the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs to discuss short- and long-term strategies to integrate the state and local correction systems, maximizing each systems’ strengths. Though talks are just beginning, the Governor hopes opportunities emerge to save taxpayer money with no impact to public safety, like sharing jail space.