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'Efficiency' office put into motion by Pennsylvania Gov. Wolf

| Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015, 11:57 p.m.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf holds a news conference at the State Capitol, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015, in Harrisburg. Gov. Tom Wolf on Thursday stamped a new name on the agency in charge of finding cost savings in Pennsylvania's state government.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf holds a news conference at the State Capitol, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015, in Harrisburg. Gov. Tom Wolf on Thursday stamped a new name on the agency in charge of finding cost savings in Pennsylvania's state government.

HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf on Thursday signed an executive order establishing an office to oversee government “efficiency,” though he offered no examples of where to look to save taxpayers at least $150 million.

It's a step toward addressing an expected $2 billion-plus state deficit, Wolf said.

At his first Capitol news conference, Wolf announced the Office of Transformation, Innovation, Management and Efficiency to find savings that he emphasized would come from efficiency, not spending cuts.

His idea isn't necessarily new, though he formalized it with a government office. Former Govs. Tom Ridge, Mark Schweiker, Ed Rendell and Wolf's predecessor, Tom Corbett, devised panels and programs to save money. Corbett last year said state agencies saved $650 million by “improving customer service, reducing costs and eliminating inefficiency.”

“Almost every new administration has had some sort of similar initiative. Unfortunately, there is a lot of inertia in state government, resistant to changing the status quo,” said Nathan Benefield, policy analyst for the Commonwealth Foundation. “Gov. Wolf will be challenged by special interests if he aggressively pursues opportunities to save taxpayers money, and must put teeth behind these recommendations.”

Wolf's announcement raised questions, coming days after the Tribune-Review reported he will pay top administrators a combined $230,300 more than their counterparts earned at the start of Corbett's administration in 2010 and allow them to accept cost-of-living adjustments that Corbett urged top staff to turn down.

Wolf's Chief of Staff Katie McGinty, for example, makes $168,000 — $14,000 more than Leslie Gromis Baker, who headed Corbett's staff.

“He has a whole press conference on changing the name of a government office, but he can't answer why he chose to give pay raises to his top officials,” said Republican Party spokeswoman Megan Sweeney. “He's spent months talking about a budget deficit, so why does he think taxpayers can afford to spend money bumping up the salaries of top officials?”

Wolf dismissed a reporter's question about the salaries, suggesting it had nothing to do with his plan. Wolf rejected the governor's $190,800 salary.

The new office won't have a staff, Wolf said. He envisions achieving results through “interagency coordination and collaboration.”

The office will be placed under the Office of Administration, which will provide support service and staff, his executive order said.

Tackling Pennsylvania's deficit “starts with state government finding innovative ways to increase efficiencies and streamline management,” Wolf said.

“As a business owner, I had to constantly look for both savings through efficiency and ways to be innovative to better serve my customers,” he said. “I did this, first and foremost, by getting input from my employees, which is exactly what we will now do in state government. Every day, workers on the front lines see inefficiencies and ways to improve efforts.”

Done right, he said, it could save $150 million immediately and hundreds of millions of dollars long term.

Wolf headed a family furniture distribution business in York, giving him a perspective perhaps different from past governors, he said.

Asked repeatedly for examples, Wolf offered one: Using technology to reduce paper costs.

That was part of Corbett's touted agency-savings, which included reducing the state vehicle fleet by 20 percent, identifying county inmates collecting unemployment compensation and expanding the use of volunteers in state parks.

“We should not be judged by what past governors have done,” said Jeff Sheridan, Wolf's spokesman.

Even if the money saved through efficiencies is then spent, “I do think they are savings,” said Sharon Minnich, secretary of the Office of Administration. “It gives us an option not to need (higher) taxes.”

Stephen Miskin, a spokesman for House Republicans, said Republicans want government working better.

“One big inefficiency would be to get rid of the (state-owned) liquor stores” and allow private business to sell wine and liquor, Miskin said.

Wolf opposed liquor privatization during his campaign.

Sheridan limited the number of questions for Wolf, cutting off reporters' questions when they moved beyond the topic of the new office.

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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