Raleigh, N.C. — Lawmakers had some tough questions Monday for the McCrory administration's new government reform initiative.
NC GEAR, North Carolina Government Efficiency and Reform, is an initiative first included in Gov. Pat McCrory's 2013 budget. Lawmakers agreed to fund the program at $4 million over two years.
The Joint Program Evaluation Oversight Commission invited program deputy director Joe Coletti to give a status report Monday afternoon, not quite a year after the program was first approved.
"Our focus is not about making government bigger or smaller. It’s about making it more effective," Coletti told the panel, adding that NC GEAR would bring recommendations to lawmakers next February and then assist in the implementation of any changes.
Coletti said the program started bringing people on board in November and hired consulting firm Deloitte in April after a competitive bid process. He said, so far, the program has spent about $1 million, mostly on the consulting contract.
The project is focusing on four agencies in state government – the Departments of Environment and Natural Resources, Public Instruction, Public Safety and Transportation – as well as IT, purchasing and human resources functions across all 22 state agencies.
Earlier Monday, the McCrory administration announced NC GEAR had launched a website to take recommendations on reform from state employees and members of the public.
Coletti told the panel he would deliver an interim report in September with recommendations for changes that can be made quickly.
When Sen. Jeff Tarte, R-Mecklenburg, asked him for a sneak preview, Coletti declined: "I don’t have anything specific to share with you at this point, sir."
Several committee members peppered the former John Locke Foundation analyst with questions.
Rep. Julia Howard, R-Davie, asked whether the final report in February 2015 would include recommended efficiencies and estimated savings for each.
"Four million dollars is a lot of money for the Finance people," said Howard, co-chairwoman of the House Finance Committee. "We’re trying to determine that we’re going to get our money’s worth."
"When we sit here in February, if we get a report back that doesn’t have new directions the legislature has not considered," said Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, "then whatever we spent will be a complete waste of money."
"We still have to figure out which of the ideas that have been brought to us are worth pursuing," Coletti responded. "We’re here to not have another set of doorstops and documents that will sit on a shelf."
Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, R-Cabarrus, encouraged Coletti to widen the scope of NC GEAR to deal with Medicaid and pensions, but Rep. Edgar Starnes, R-Caldwell, suggested the job might already be too big.
"I think you have a worthy goal, and it’s something we want to encourage you to succeed at, but I don’t know how you’re going to be able to complete this job with this scope in the amount of time you’re talking about," Starnes said. "I’m just wondering if it’s not too big to succeed. It looks to me like you need to narrow your scope."