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Governors and State Audits

Posted at 3:42 pm May 23, 2017, in 2017 Elections, NJ Governors

Governor Jim Florio and members of his Governor’s Management Review Commission (GMRC)

Gubernatorial campaigns often feature promises to improve government efficiency and reduce waste. The 2017 New Jersey race is no exception.

Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno—a leading candidate for the Republican nomination—has specifically promised an audit of state government, using the savings discovered to fund a property tax cap.

If Guadagno is elected and fulfills her promise of a state audit (or if another candidate implements a similar pledge), it certainly will not be the first such audit in New Jersey history. In fact, she would have a number of past examples to draw upon as guides and/or warnings. One of the first was initiated by Governor William Cahill (R, 1970-74), who early in his term in the spring of 1970 formed the Governor’s Management Study Commission.

As Guadagno notes in her press release describing her audit plan, 12 years after Cahill’s Commission Governor Tom Kean (R, 1982-90) created the Governor’s Management Improvement Program (GMIP), which specifically reviewed state departmental management.

Perhaps most relevant to Guadagno’s proposal, however, was Governor Jim Florio’s (D, 1990-94) Government Management Review Commission (GMRC). In an interview during the 1989 gubernatorial race, Florio, referencing the Cahill Commission, promised a similar “thorough, analytical review of the state’s operations.” To keep this promise after his election, Florio created the GMRC in April 1990. The commission lasted throughout Florio’s term, issuing multiple annual state audit reports and making various spending recommendations.

A few years ago, in 2013, the Center on the American Governor completed a study of the GMRC, complete with a timeline of the development and progress of the commission’s work, primary documents related to the effort, and an interview with the Executive Director of the Commission, Michael Scheiring.

Each of these audit and efficiency efforts met with at least modest success, but also confronted significant challenges. While government efficiency is virtually universally applauded as a goal, significant opportunities to effect it are often elusive. The status quo often has its own rationale and defenders.

The next governor, whoever it is, would be wise to examine these and other past efforts to determine which approaches were most effective and which accomplished the least or were largely ignored. After all, the effort to improve government efficiency should itself be as efficient as possible.

-Kristoffer Shields