County to test permit reform

OLYMPIA – Snohomish County will be the testing ground for Gov. Christine Gregoire’s plan to simplify permitting of projects that require sign-off from several levels of government.

Gregoire said Thursday that the state will team with Snohomish County and the city of Everett on a pilot program to demonstrate that projects can be approved faster without local and state agencies ceding authority or ignoring any laws.

Gregoire, County Executive Aaron Reardon and Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson agreed to pursue a partnership during the governor’s visit to the city Jan. 13.

“There are several areas we are looking at,” Reardon said. “The goal is to reduce red tape without affecting the quality of projects.”

The pilot program in Snohomish County was among several initiatives proposed by Gregoire on Thursday to make state government more efficient, including a proposal for state agencies to track their effectiveness. It’s similar to a system devised by the New York Police Department to track clusters of crime by geographic area and deploy officers to that particular area.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani applied the same basic management strategy to all of that city’s government agencies. Baltimore and Seattle later adapted it, as did the Washington State Patrol and other state agencies.

And now Gregoire wants Washington to become the first state to try it for all of state government.

On Thursday, Gregoire asked the Legislature to create a Government Management Accountability and Performance system. It would require every department to set up a system to measure the effectiveness of how services are delivered and whether intended results are achieved.

The governor told a news conference she supports legislation to allow performance audits of state agencies and programs. Currently, the state auditor does financial audits but isn’t authorized to study an agency’s effectiveness in meeting its mission.

Gregoire also:

* Created an advisory group to work with agencies and the secretary of state to find ways to simplify tax reporting.

* Mandated that agencies use plain talk rather than bureaucratic jargon in everything that is written for the public.

Gregoire conceded that the accountability topic is abstract, but said it’s important both to government managers and to the average citizen.

“Despite the staggering investments in money and time, we aren’t always able to tell the taxpayer exactly what they got for their money,” she said. “And too often we are unable to hold managers accountable for results. We’re going to change that.”

Gregoire, a former three-term attorney general, adopted the system in the Attorney General’s Office two years ago, and said it should save the state money by better handling the tort division.

The State Patrol is using the new approach and has been able to greatly expand its contacts with motorists, including drunken drivers and those with seat-belt violations, and the number of fatal traffic accidents has dropped, she said.

Gregoire said one personal goal is to have the state Department of Social and Health Services respond more quickly to reports of suspected child abuse.

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