When he announced his candidacy for Governor in May 2010, then Attorney General Cuomo released his New New York Agenda, in which he called for the creation of a Spending and Government Efficiency (SAGE) Commission. The Agenda described the proliferation of State agencies and other State governmental bodies that had occurred over the years, and pointed out how this had become an obstacle to efficient, effective and accountable government.
Governor Cuomo fulfilled his pledge to restructure State government in his State of the State address, saying: "To modernize and right-size State government, the administration will propose the Spending and Government Efficiency (SAGE) Commission whose charge will be to undertake a comprehensive review of every agency of state government and recommend structural and operations changes to it. The Sage Commission['s] charge will be simple: make our State government more modern, accountable and efficient."
Governor Cuomo appointed the members of the SAGE Commission on April 19, 2011. The Commission will look at four main areas of opportunity for improving the performance, efficiency and accountability of State government:
- streamline the organizational structure of State government by consolidating agencies, authorities, commissions, etc. that have overlapping missions;
- identify operational improvements such as shared services, enhanced use of information technology and changes in service delivery mechanisms;
- develop metrics and targets to help improve performance and make government more open, transparent and accountable; and
- identify non-critical activities that are less central to the core mission of agencies or State government.
This will be the first comprehensive improvement effort in New York State since the one led by Governor Al Smith nearly a century ago.
Governor Smith’s Reorganization Effort:
New York’s last comprehensive government reorganization effort began in 1919, when Governor Al Smith established the Reconstruction Commission on Retrenchment and Reorganization in State government. The Commission was composed of a diverse group of prominent leaders in various areas, and was tasked with creating a plan to reform state government.
The Commission’s final report, published within a year after the Commission was created, advanced bold initiatives to redesign the structure and operation of New York State government. The report proposed consolidating more than 100 state agencies, forbidding any new agencies from being created, eradicating any duplication in functions, and establishing a single, centralized executive budget.
Although it took until 1927 for a version of these recommendations to be adopted, the result of this effort transformed New York State government and made New York State a model for other states to follow when embarking on their own reorganization efforts.
Proliferation Over Time:
Since the completion of this effort, New York State government has expanded dramatically. Since 1927, the workforce has grown from 29,000 to over 195,700 today, while the budget has increased from $239million to $135 billion. Over time, as the government assumed more functions and responsibilities, the Legislature created more entities to carry out these new tasks. And yet, with the creation of each of these new bodies, there has been limited consideration of their placement within state government as a whole. These entities have thus further enlarged and complicated the state bureaucracy.
The resulting structure today is a tangle of over 500 state entities. The Executive Department, which in 1927 contained four divisions, Budget, Standards and Purchase, State Police and Military and Naval Affairs, is now composed of 41 agencies. In addition, the State has at least 15 major authorities and several hundred other minor authorities. There are more than 500 boards, commissions, councils and taskforces. Given this proliferation of government entities, it is unsurprising that there are now many bodies within State government with overlapping functions in areas such as economic development, transportation and housing.
Other State Reform Efforts:
Numerous other states have undergone comprehensive efforts to make government more efficient and effective. States such as Texas and Rhode Island included restructuring proposals in their reform plans. Georgia’s effort, among others, advanced ways to improve government operations in order to realize greater efficiencies and cost savings, and augment service quality. Many states, including North Carolina, Virginia and New Jersey, focused on identifying functions that were not critical to agencies’ core missions, and shifting responsibility of certain of these functions through privatization and other means. States such as Washington and Virginia developed comprehensive performance management systems that track performance across state government.
Present Day Opportunity:
The establishment of the SAGE Commission marks the beginning of the next full-scale effort to modernize and right-size our state government, and in doing so, make government operations and services more efficient, effective and accountable.