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Ten Ideas for the Virginia Commission on Government Reform

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Governor Robert McDonnell has appointed a Commission on Government Reform and Restructuring to look for ways to save money, improve service and make state government more transparent and responsive to the citizens of the Commonwealth. That is a timely and admirable task.
When my sons were young and I was an aspiring entrepreneur, my business was located in a shared office complex. My rent was based on the size and location of my office. When one of my sons visited my office, he asked why I didn’t have a window. It was a “teachable moment” wherein I was able to explain the difference between a luxury and necessity.
Given today’s economy and the difficult decisions Governor McDonnell and the General Assembly had to make in order to deliver a budget surplus, now is the time for Virginia to eliminate luxuries and focus state government on the necessities. First and foremost, Virginia should embark upon a robust and thorough “Yellow Pages” test. Every state activity should be reviewed to determine whether it is an essential government service that only government employees can perform, or whether it is a commercially available activity wherein one can find private companies, including small business, in the Yellow Pages, that can carry out the function. Whether that’s through direct conversions, contracting out, vouchers, asset sales and leases, privatization, divestiture, public-private partnerships, managed/competitive souring comparisons or any number of other instruments to transfer commercial activities from the government to the private sector matters not at all. This obviously includes the ABC system of liquor sales, but should be extended to many, many more functions currently carried out by the Commonwealth.
Here are ten ideas the Commission on Government Reform and Restructuring should consider (some of which have been suggested in previous Bacon columns):


  1. Conduct an inventory of all state-owned real property, determine where state ownership is no longer needed, and surplus/dispose of that property – with the resulting revenues designated for transportation. This has been proposed in HB 782 by Delegate Jim LeMunyon.
  2. Coordinate land use and transportation. Virginia has a disjointed system. Land use (planning and zoning) is a local responsibility, which transportation infrastructure is the domain of the state. As a result, the supply of infrastructure (road building) is not matching up to demand (home, office & retail building and population growth), leading to gridlock. Something’s got to give, and a new governmental process that preserves Virginia’s strong private property rights tradition, while providing infrastructure to ensure mobility and economic viability, is sorely needed.
  3. Close the loophole in current law that allows one state agency to do work (that is commercial and available from private sector contractors) for another state agency on a sole-source basis without competition by private sources, public announcement, disclosure or transparency,  Either prohibit an agency from providing a commercially-available product or service outside its own agency, or require the agency to engage in a fair and competitive procurement and win the competition before the agency can provide the product or service to another agency.
  4. Revitalize, reinvigorate and re-empower the Commonwealth Competition Council. This valuable body has been moribund of late, meeting only once or twice per year, and only receiving briefings, rather than exploring privatization opportunities. The CCC should be aggressively applying the Yellow Pages test on a daily basis.
  5. Establish new design standards for VDOT projects. VDOT currently “gold-plates” projects, causing unnecessary cost increases. In instances where simple turn lanes and modest intersection improvements at a few hundred thousand dollars are sufficient, VDOT plans call for major, multi-million dollar projects. Dong more with less should be programmed into VDOT design solutions.
  6. Utilize current, state-of-the-art GPS technology to deploy, track and pay snow plows.  VDOT did a pilot several years ago but did not implement a permanent program. This technology, now used in numerous other states and localities, saves money and increases efficiency in snow removal. GPS can tell what streets have been plowed and when they were plowed, providing prompter and more efficient use snow plow vehicles.
  7. Create a Joint “de-appropriations” (Committee for the Elimination of Un-necessary State Expenditures) committee in the General Assembly, modeled after the “Byrd Committee” in Congress (created by Senator Harry F. Byrd, Sr. of Virginia in 1941 and chaired by Senator Byrd from 1941 to 1965).  Such a committee in the General Assembly was proposed in 2004 by Delegates Athey, Albo and Frederick in HB 459.
  8. Privatize the Virginia Geographic Information Network (VGIN).  Mapping and geographic information systems (GIS) is a commercial activity and one of the fastest growing business areas in the U.S. economy. Virginia has one of the largest concentrations of geospatial firms in the world, with a number of highly qualified firms with skilled employees – any number of Virginia firms can manage this program.
  9. Close the George Mason University Inn and Conference Center.  Why is George Mason University in the hotel business?  Fairfax County is home to 105 hotels offering more than 18,000 hotel rooms, including 20 meeting hotels with more than 5,000 square feet of space that can accommodate convention and conference groups.  The new GMU hotel duplicates and competes with the private sector and never should have been built in the first place. Convert the building to dorms and classrooms.
  10. The DMV office at Fair Oaks Mall has a full time security guard, and a customer service (help) desk.  Why not combine those into one.  Even US Postal Offices do not have dedicated security guards.  Is security at a DMV really necessary, particularly one in a shopping mall with its own security?  Can’t individuals be cross-trained to be customer service/help desk attendants AND provide security?

The Commission has set up a web site to receive citizen recommendations.  Instead of complaining about government, offer your solutions at

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