Harrisburg – As the three-week stretch of budget hearings begins to wind down, House Republicans on Wednesday unveiled an initiative that will allow them to hear from state employees instead of the agency heads that have been appearing before the appropriations committees since the end of February.
A cadre of House Republicans led by Rep. Marguerite Quinn (R-Bucks) announced the creation of a web portal, dubbed “SEAS,” for State Employees Achieving Savings, that will allow state employees to directly contact the House Appropriations Committee with cost-savings ideas they have developed while operating on the front lines of state government.
“We can’t overlook the fact that there are experts in the field and, as taxpayers themselves, they, too, have a keen interest in what’s best for Pennsylvania,” Rep. Quinn said of state employees. “The state workers seek every day what the state can do not only to cut costs, but how employees can improve their performance, even their morale. They’re in the best position to see how Pennsylvania can innovate.”
She added that while some of the suggestions that are made might result in minor savings, the total can be multiplied by the sheer volume of savings suggestions.
The initiative had the support of House Appropriations Committee Majority Chairman Stan Saylor (R-York), who commented that this is one of many innovative ways the caucus is looking at to get over the “great hurdle” before them in putting together a state budget in the face of a $3 billion deficit.
“The website will help us to achieve our goals of improving state government efficiencies and utilizing all the expertise we have from our state workforce,” he said. “We hear from our state agency heads all the time, but it’s important to have a voice from all those involved in the process.”
According to legislators, while the format for the input is new, the idea of soliciting input from state employees on how to achieve state-level cost savings is not.
Rep. Sheryl Delozier (R-Cumberland), who was the executive director of Gov. Tom Ridge’s IMPACCT and PRIME initiatives sought out employee input to achieve cost-savings, with Ridge's successor, Gov. Mark Schweiker, holding town hall-like meetings with state employees to hear their suggestions – a move that ended up netting $500 million in government operations savings.
“He would run these town halls and he would walk up and down the aisles, and he would put people on the spot asking what their suggestions were,” she said. “The employees had never had that happen to them before.”
The concept is also similar to something sought out in PennSAVE last session, where state employees and members of the public were encouraged to send the House Republican Policy Committee suggestions for cost savings.
Furthermore, Sen. Scott Wagner (R-York) also had an initiative last session, called SavePA, that sought taxpayer ideas for saving money in state government.
In addition, the governor's office was quick to point out Wednesday that the idea of allowing state employee suggestions is part of the administration's GO-TIME initiative.
"GO-TIME provides every state employee with an opportunity to submit cost-saving ideas and an agency coordinator helps implement them. In fact, many of the GO-TIME ideas that have been implemented came from state employees," said Wolf press secretary JJ Abbott.
"We are committed to working with both parties to achieve the governor's goal of finding savings to help address the $3 billion deficit," he added. "The governor's budget contains more than $2 billion in such measures and is a new way from the past - relying on savings and efficiencies, rather than making broad cuts to important programs like education and human services, to balance the budget."
It was not immediately clear Wednesday how much in terms of savings the initiative is anticipated to weed out. Additionally, there was no guarantee the suggestions and related savings would ever be made public.
“It depends on what we get in,” Quinn stated on the subject of making the information public. “Obviously, if we get some cost-saving ideas, we’re going to act on them – that way, it’s going to be a public act.”
Further, given the anonymity option for suggestions, there is no mechanism to ensure it is only state employees who are making the recommendations, leaving the site vulnerable to be influenced by outside entities.
“There could be someone else that has something,” Quinn said. “We did not want to screen so much that someone says, ‘Uh-oh, they’re going to be out to get me, they’re going to track me.’ We just wanted a forum where people can submit their ideas.”
Jason Gottesman is the Harrisburg bureau chief for The PLS Reporter, a non-partisan, online news site devoted to covering Pennsylvania government.