Agency consolidation: Malloy offers sweeping plan, skimpy details

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Thursday released his third consolidation proposal in as many days: Take 81 agencies and reduce them by nearly one-third to 57. His announcement leaves unclear how many of the consolidations simply reflect changes on a flow chart, as opposed to a new focus in operations.

“This is a large shake-up, and I know there will be a number of questions,” Malloy said. “In the coming weeks and months, I’m going to be talking to people all across the state about my plan for a more streamlined and efficient Connecticut state government. But make no mistake – I am serious about these proposals, and I am ready to work with the committees of cognizance in the legislature to make this happen.”

The governor’s announcement came in a three-paragraph email and was devoid of key details, such as functional changes, reductions in staff and associated savings. The administration acknowledged in a statement to the Associated Press that the savings would be minimal, perhaps $10 million.

“It isn’t a lot of money,” said Benjamin Barnes, the governor’s budget chief. “What we hope to get are improved operations and the ability to generate significantly more efficiencies over time.

Malloy would merge the Office of State Ethics, the Freedom of Information Commission, Elections Enforcement Commission, the Judicial Review Council and the Contracting Standards Board into an Office of Governmental Accountability.

But how those agencies would function together, where Malloy would derive efficiencies and savings, and whether jobs would be eliminated was unclear, though more details will come Wednesday when the governor releases his budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The citizens’ group, Common Cause, quickly announced its opposition to joining those agencies:

“A proposal to merge the ‘Watchdog Agencies’ harkens back to the Rowland days. It was a bad idea when Rowland proposed it, and it is a bad idea now. The reality is that the Watchdog commissions, along with the Judicial Review Council and Contracting Standards board uphold the public’s interest as it applies to government, but they are distinct agencies with unique functions that do not overlap.”

Malloy said throughout the fall campaign that he didn’t believe layoffs were unavoidable on the path to reducing government spending. And the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition issued a brief, cautious statement in response to the governor’s consolidation announcement.

“For years we’ve advocated reducing duplicative bureaucracy and shifting resources from management to the front-line workers who provide public services,” SEBAC spokesman Larry Dorman wrote. “We would hope the governor’s proposal accomplishes that, but absent any discussion about how the proposed consolidation might work, I cannot comment any further.”

Malloy repeated today in his email what he has been saying publicly: Connecticut’s governmental structure has grown, often without regard to function.

“When putting together my budget, I had to ask – what sense does it make to split the Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security and the Department of Public Safety?” Malloy said. “Or why are the Offices of Workforce Competitiveness and the Commission on Culture and Tourism stand-alone agencies, apart from the Department of Economic and Community Development?

“And why are all of the government accountability functions – the Elections Enforcement Commission, the Freedom of Information Commission, the Judicial Review Council, the Contracting Standards Board, and the Office of State Ethics separate entities when so many of their issue areas and jurisdiction overlap? It just didn’t make sense.”

Malloy avoided a cluster of legislative agencies that are small in cost but large in terms of potential controversy.

The governor plan included no recommendations for advocacy commissions representing African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, women, children and the elderly.

Malloy’s Republican predecessor, M. Jodi Rell, proposed eliminating the five commissions that were funded two years ago, but the Democrat-controlled General Assembly rejected that idea, opting instead to order major reductions in the commission budgets. The Commission on Asian-Pacific American Affairs was created in 2009, but did not receive funding until 2010.

The six commissions’ budgets combined currently total $1.87 million.

The House and Senate Republican caucuses recommended merging all six commissions into one office in the legislative agenda they offered earlier this month.

Keith M. Phaneuf contributed to this story.