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Editorial: Make government more about customer service

Maryland's government bureaucracy and the service it provides are a bit of a mess. At least, that's the conclusion from a state commission that says the state suffers from a "convoluted" structure and a need to interact better with its citizens.

Larry Hogan formed this 11-member commission shortly after taking over as governor, sprouting from conversations on the campaign trail in which he consistently heard from voters about how frustrated they were with the state's bureaucracy. The issue came up more often than the issue of taxes. And for a state that imposes a tax burden on its citizens as much as Maryland does, that's saying a lot.

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The commission, which hosted six meetings across the state and spoke to hundreds of citizens there in addition to receiving a few hundred more written comments, found that regulators put "an emphasis on punitive enforcement instead of assisting compliance," creating a "gotcha environment," according to a Baltimore Sun report. The commission went on to suggest to Hogan that the state become more focused on customer service.

The message is consistent with what Hogan talked about during his campaign when he said Maryland needed to become more business friendly by cutting through bureaucratic red tape. Not surprisingly, the commission confirmed Hogan's beliefs, saying that state agencies and departments sometimes had duplicative missions and overlapping authority. "It is no secret that Maryland's state government has long held a glaring bureaucratic, uncooperative reputation," according to the report. "This is a systemic, cultural disease that needs to be eliminated. Response times are inconsistent and often, it requires communication with an elected official to get the wheels turning."

That's a pretty strong indictment of the system and the state employees working in it. But we would prefer to see it as an opportunity for Hogan. The state government hasn't undergone a major reorganization since Marvin Mandel was governor in the mid 1970s. We see Hogan as someone who can make progress toward a restructuring. Start, for example, with the easier tasks, such as giving customer service goals to staff. Reward those providing great service with some kind of recognition. Make the rules and regulations in each department simple to understand. After a few victories doing the easy things, state officials migth have the confidence needed to tackle the tougher changes, such as reorganizing departments to eliminate duplication.

We can fully appreciate the mammoth effort it can take to change the culture of an organization such as this. And it might take some time. But we think Hogan has the leadership style to make these kinds of changes, and to do so in measured and meaningful ways. We can't wait for him to get started.

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