99 Years and Counting

Posted on 02. Apr, 2011 by Administrator in Economy

Soon our state will be celebrating its 100th birthday, and while plans have been underway for some time on just how we’ll blow out those 100 candles, I have some suggestions for the soon-to-be 99 year-old. In January, we will raise our glasses and toast New Mexico’s first woman governor, and that will signal the start of a new administration and, hopefully, the end of an era of divisive politics, intrigue and deep-seated mistrust in government. Hope springs eternal. Along with a new Governor, we’ll also have new crop of Cabinet Secretaries, Deputy Cabinet Secretaries, Division Directors, Public Affairs Officers and other appointees. Both candidates for governor have indicated they would seriously cut the number of ‘governor’s exempt’ positions. That’s the good news. The bad news is that there will be MORE work to do in 2011 as a result of nearly a year’s worth of staffing cuts. This work will have to be done by someone, and now might be the time to think about using contractors to replace exempt employees to do the state’s business.

Qualified contractors are cheaper than full-time employees as they don’t get holiday pay, sick leave, vacations or pension contributions. Their work is governed by a specific contract that lays out their tasks in detail, along with benchmarks and ‘deliverables.’ Their pay is subject to GRT so the state even gets money back as a result of their work! They are bound by ethics requirements, disclosure, competition clauses and are easily regulated by State contracting requirements. They are here when we need them and elsewhere when we don’t. The flexible nature of contract workers would enable the State to better plan for its needs by staffing up or staffing down almost at will.

The political culture will complain that contractors will not be ‘loyal’ to the administration, and that they will not be able to exert the kind of authority they need to accomplish the administration’s goals. I would submit that one of the principal reasons to use contractors is to get their honest opinions on how to accomplish difficult tasks. Their objectivity would be assured BECAUSE they would not be subject to the whims of the Executive Branch or fear reprisals for offering a potentially ‘politically unacceptable’ viewpoint. Government has an obligation to lead and to solve problems, and it has a better chance of doing both well if it has adequate resources. Given the record-breaking budget shortfalls staring the next administration and legislature in the face, we will simply not have the money necessary to do the state’s business unless we are able to achieve some massive personnel savings and/or dramatically make the State’s ‘machinery’ work better.

Obviously, we cannot replace every exempt employee with a contractor, but rather than simply eliminating all the exempt positions as some politicos advocate, we ought to carefully review our needs and see if there are opportunities to shift the portfolios of some of those positions to contractors.

2011 – The Year of Looking Inward … and Forward

New Mexico’s 99th year should be a year of introspection and dialogue where our citizens debate some fundamental issues like: what it means to be a New Mexican, what kind of New Mexico we want for the next 100 years, how we can move up the ‘good’ lists and down the ‘bad’ ones, what kind of neighbor New Mexico will be to the country to our south and to the states to our north, east and west, and finally, how we revitalize our economy and grow the kind of long-term sustainable jobs that will keep our children here and our families together. We have our work cut out for us as we tackle today’s (and tomorrow’s) problems, but so did our forefathers nearly a century ago as they braved the dangerous challenges of their time, many of which they were totally unprepared for. I would encourage our new governor to seize an opportunity next year to begin the process of bringing us together around the theme of ‘New Mexico 200,’ a statewide initiative she should launch to celebrate our state’s proud history and to contemplate our exciting future. It’s something we could all get behind, and if there ever was a time we needed a reason to come together it’s now.

Stephan Helgesen is the former Director of the State’s Office of Science and Technology and retired Foreign Service Officer having lived and worked in 20 countries. He is CEO of Second Opinion Marketing, a high-tech consultancy company in Albuquerque.


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