Former President Herbert Hoover chaired two commissions during the presidential administrations of President Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower. The Hoover Commissions were looking to make government more efficient. As a result of the New Deal and World War II the federal bureaucracy, especially within the executive branch, had escalated. Hoover argued that governments have an instinct of a vegetable, that is, “they keep spreading and growing.”
Gov. Kim Reynolds echoed Hoover when she stated that “like any large organization, government is marked by bureaucracy’s natural tendency to grow. If that growth isn’t constantly checked and rechanneled toward its core function, it quickly takes on a life of its own.” As part of her fiscal conservative policy agenda, Gov. Reynolds is not only prudent with spending, enacting pro-growth tax reforms, and starting the process to reign in Iowa’s state government.
During its most-recent session, the legislature passed, and Reynolds signed, an historic state government reorganization law that reduces the size and scope of government.
In her Condition of the State address, Gov. Reynolds articulated her plan to ensure a more-efficient state government that is a good “steward of Iowans’ tax dollars.” Prior to passage of this new law, 40 years had passed since Iowa’s last major reform initiative, and state government increased continually. As an example, 37 executive branch cabinet agencies had accumulated – more than exist in any neighboring state, including our larger neighbors, Minnesota, and Illinois. The Reynolds reform will reduce this number to 16 cabinet agencies.
Among the new law’s other provisions is a recommendation to consolidate or eliminate over 100 boards and commissions, reducing redundancy and superfluous bureaucracy. Kraig Paulsen, who serves as the director of the Department of Management and also as the chair of the Boards and Commissions Review Committee, noted that 256 state boards and commissions have been reviewed, and his committee has recommended 111 to be eliminated or consolidated. If the legislature agrees with the committee, it would produce a 43 percent reduction in Iowa’s boards and commissions.
The committee also correctly identified the need for an “effective mechanism” to evaluate boards and commissions on a regular basis. Unless properly checked the natural tendency for government is to grow. Thus, the committee recommends not only an “ongoing review process for all boards and commissions,” but also implementation of sunrise and sunset provisions, which make additional legislative oversight integral to their continuation over time.
Looking beyond the operation of government and into Iowans’ working lives, the committee notes that “Iowa requires a license or certification for too many occupations, and its standards across all license types are inconsistent, inefficient, and inequal.” Therefore, the committee is calling for the legislature to “implement clear, consistent, and efficient licensing standards to reduce barriers to entry into the workforce.”
Critics are arguing that these reforms may endanger public safety or result in the loss of local control. One recommendation, for example, is to eliminate the Elevator Safety Board, which began operations in 2005. Those who believe this presents a safety risk must answer the question of how elevators were overseen prior to the establishment of the board, because they are not a Twenty-First Century innovation.
Eliminating or consolidating boards and commissions does not necessarily mean erasing the regulations or inspections associated with their subject matter. In the case of elevators, the board’s functions will simply transfer to the Department of Inspections and Appeals.
Another key revelation of the Boards and Commissions Review Committee is the power of the federal government (and its funds) in controlling state policy. The Iowa Commission on Volunteer Service, for instance, had earlier been earmarked for elimination, but supporters insisted it would result in the loss of federal funds. Just so, federal funding contributes to increases in the size and scope of government and keeping it big. Chris Edwards, the Kilts Family Chair in Fiscal Studies at the Cato Institute, notes that federal funds lead to “overspending by the states, requires large bureaucracies to administer, and comes with a web of complex regulations that limit state flexibility.”
Another imposing force for perpetual government growth is the bureaucracy and closely aligned special interests that fight to ensure the boards or commissions from which they draw their power continue forever. The recommendations from the Boards and Commissions Review Committee offer the legislature an opportunity to reduce Iowa’s bureaucracy and, in doing so, bring greater accountability and transparency to boards and commissions.
Gov. Reynolds is leading a noble effort to reform state government and make it more accountable and efficient for the taxpayer. With pro-growth tax policy and conservative budgeting that produces budget surpluses and a strong fiscal foundation, Governor Reynolds is demonstrating what true fiscal conservatism looks like.