OMDAHL: A high tech governor offers great promise

As a political science professor and a recovering government reorganizer, I was impressed by the inaugural address of Governor Doug Burgum. And the more he talked the more impressed I became.

As a political science professor and a recovering government reorganizer, I was impressed by the inaugural address of Governor Doug Burgum. And the more he talked the more impressed I became.

Without a doubt, everyone ran his comments through individual paradigms tainted by experience and self-interest. For many of us, skepticism and predisposition to believe what we want to believe choked a good share of them.

Local government officials noted the uncertainty of state funding of local services; Native Americans wondered about his olive branch; big property owners saw tax reform; state agencies saw downsizing; students saw tuition increases, and high education looked on with horror.

As for me, I see a fresh opportunity to reassess all of the past failures to reform state and local government with a governor who brings a sophisticated insight of high tech to the governmental processes. Not only does he know the technology but he has the management ability to implement it.

I expect Governor Burgum to propose new ways to break out of the routines of government and introduce creative applications that most of us can’t even comprehend at the present time.

On the budget side of reform, we are looking at cuts in state programs that will impact the “have nots” more than the “haves.” That shouldn’t surprise anyone because it is a historic fact that the middle and upper classes (the haves) control politics.

While many of us got big tax breaks from the oil prosperity, nobody is talking about sharing the budget crisis by giving back a portion of those tax cuts. Instead, we are going to shrink the common good.

But let’s get back to the possibilities involved in a Burgum era of reinvention and reform.

To focus on the subject, we should separate the discussion into three parts:  cutting the budget, rearranging the structure and revamping processes.

In this discussion, the budget should be dismissed because reinvention can occur on a separate track with all of its separate arguments. So we can argue budget later.

Structural change is countercultural and those who violate the culture are doomed to extinction. The Governor needs to be wary because fights over structure will eat up his precious time and bog down the more rewarding reinvention efforts.

Trying to achieve structural reform at the local level would be especially hazardous. Through the years, brave souls have proposed consolidation, reorganization and reform of counties and townships. They have passed on to oblivion while counties and townships remained unchanged.

So let’s separate reinvention from the budget and structural change at this time and focus on high tech.

To appreciate the potential, we should look at modern retailing. National chain stores manage local inventories by computer from Minneapolis or Chicago. Local services, e.g. plumbing and florists, are now nationalized.

Amazon has sent people home to work.  The 800 numbers in the phone books are multiplying. The private sector is achieving major advances with high tech.

Our state and local governments have been using technology but they are still far behind the governor’s vision of possibilities. The processes involving governmental functions could be centralized without touching the structure; budgets would eventually benefit down the road.

To be successful, reinvention of processes and administration will be doomed unless the sanctity of participation is preserved, meaning that the citizenry must be brought along in the reinvention process.

It will be cumbersome. Some bureaucracies will resist; decisions will be stalled; hearings will be required. It will be nothing like the unfettered management of private business. Nevertheless, the potential is so mind-boggling that we should give the Governor room.