A Governor's Guide to Trimming Wasteful State Programs

Most people won't miss their state boards and commissions. So why is the process is so slow and fraught with political consequences?

daniels body.JPG

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels enters the House chamber to deliver his State of the State address / AP Images

When it comes to eliminating waste and inefficiency, I've often remarked that citizens would be amazed how much government they'll never miss. They would probably be equally shocked to hear how quickly obsolete and antiquated government functions pile up.

The hundreds of boards, commissions, and advisory committees that have sprouted over the years -- in Indiana, other states, and at the federal level -- are a good example. Legislators eager to demonstrate their enthusiasm for some cause or interest group find creating these entities an easy and generally low-cost way to do so. And while these boards and commissions take up only a minute chunk of Indiana's budget, they devour time, money, and energy far beyond any real contribution they make.

When our administration arrived in 2005, we found more than 300 boards and commissions requiring gubernatorial appointments. Some of these served useful purposes. For others, such as those dedicated to the certification of hypnotists or acupuncture advisory, the necessity was hard to discern.

Solving the nation's most entrenched problems See full coverage

The problem is that, once created, these activities almost never go away. No legislator sees any glory in eliminating some board their constituents have never heard of. Meanwhile, the interest groups involved and the original sponsors, if they are still around, will take a sunset attempt as an affront or a sign of diminished importance -- and rebel against it.

Progress is not impossible. After years of trying, we have euthanized over 70 of these boards and commissions. My favorite method is to not appoint board or commission members and see if anyone notices. I took a more direct approach in proposing and signing a recent "spring cleaning" bill which took out over 20 entities, including a water shortage task force, a library automation council, and numerous other innocuous-sounding government bodies that rarely meet and whose minimal responsibilities frequently overlap.

Often, these mini-agencies have the effect (and maybe the intent) of protecting "ins" against "outs" by eliminating competition. Originally included in our latest spring cleaning effort was a bill to deregulate certification of Indiana's cosmetologists and barbers, a move recommended by the Regulated Occupations Evaluation Committee, a team tasked by our legislature with determining the usefulness of licensing agencies.

With a hair salon and a fingernail parlor seemingly in every strip mall, one would think that the remedy for poor and unprofessional performance would be open market competition: get a lousy haircut or the wrong-colored toenails, switch to the shop on the next corner. But this effort was ultimately abandoned when hundreds of hairdressers flooded the statehouse in opposition, proving that getting government out of something, no matter how small, is a mighty struggle.

While most reformer energy should be aimed at those larger, more intrusive government activities that are breaking budgets and infringing freedoms, removing needless bureaucracies from the little areas which choke out growth, siphon off time, and take up space has value too.

Over the past seven years we have had success in shuttering obsolete and little-known boards and commissions. Though the progress has at times been slow and more remain, there is power in this small example: by relieving the state of these under-the-radar responsibilities, we've freed up resources for our more important assignments and shown that government's involvement in areas that stray far from its core mission can indeed be curtailed.

Presented by

Mitch Daniels is the 49th Governor of Indiana, a position he's held since 2004. More

Governor Mitch Daniels was elected as the 49th Governor of the State of Indiana in 2004, in his first bid for any elected office. He was re-elected in 2008 to a second and final term, receiving more votes than any candidate for any public office in the state's history.

Governor Daniels came from a successful career in business and government. He held numerous top management positions in both the private and public sectors, including CEO of the Hudson Institute and President of Eli Lilly and Company's North American Pharmaceutical Operations. He also has served as Chief of Staff to Senator Richard Lugar, Senior Advisor to President Ronald Reagan, and Director of the Office of Management and Budget under President George W. Bush. He is the author of a recent book, Keeping the Republic: Saving America by Trusting Americans.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus


A Stop-Motion Tour of New York City

A filmmaker animated hundreds of still photographs to create this Big Apple flip book


The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"


This Japanese Inn Has Been Open For 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.


What Happens Inside a Dying Mind?

Science cannot fully explain near-death experiences.

More in Politics

Just In