Some promising first steps

Successful businesses strive to improve. They adapt quickly to changing market conditions, reorganize when necessary to maximize efficiency, and always make customer service a priority.

It’s an excellent model for good government, too.

Gov. Chris Gregoire gets that, and this week she rolled out some good first steps for making state government more effective and customer friendly. Some she’s taking on her own, like the immediate elimination of 56 unnecessary boards and commissions. Some will require legislative approval. The pending debate is long overdue, and we look forward to more proposals for significant reform in the coming months.

Overall, Gregoire wants to eliminate a third of the state’s 470 boards and commissions. Some, such as local ferry advisory committees, deserve a chance to defend their effectiveness. Many, however, add a layer to an already bloated bureaucracy without making government much better.

That underscores the common goal of Gregoire’s reform proposals: to improve the delivery of government services by eliminating areas of overlap and aggressively embracing 21st century technology.

Nothing exemplifies the latter more than her goal of increasing online instruction through the state’s community and technical colleges. “E-learning” is already resoundingly popular at the state’s two-year colleges — it’s up 25 percent from a just year ago systemwide, and community colleges in Everett, Edmonds and Mount Vernon have some of the system’s highest demand.

Online learning is filling classes that had empty seats, increasing the efficiency of the state’s higher education investments. It’s providing the same amount of instruction that could take place on four brick-and-mortar campuses. Charlie Earl, executive director of the state board for community and technical colleges, estimates that in the next 12 years, online learning could account for half of the state’s two-year-college instruction. The quicker such demand is met, the better.

The governor also proposes merging some state agencies and consolidating programs and administrative functions that have similar purposes. For example: putting personnel and property management under the General Administration office rather than having it scattered among various agencies. Such streamlining will allow agencies to focus on their core mission, delivering vital services more effectively.

These initiatives would be welcome anytime (just ask lawmakers, mostly Republicans, who have called for such a push for years), but they’re critically important as the state faces billions of dollars in spending cuts. They represent a promising start on the road to real government reform.

That’s good business.

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