The Hammon interview


This week's Citizen interview is Gov. C. L. "Butch" Otter's budget director, Wayne Hammon. You can read the full interview here, but there were a few nuggets that did not make it into the paper. Chiefly, that Otter's "modified zero-based budgeting" initiative has begun in earnest, and his 2009 budget will indicate a few places where redundancies have been found.

Wayne Hammon, Division of Financial Managment / Jeremy Lanningham

We also found out that Otter's budget chief is neither an accountant nor an economist, but we put that part in the paper.

Below are a few questions and answers  that we cut for space:

How far along is the governor's budget at this point in October?
So, the agencies submit their budget first of September. And they submit to us and the Legislative Budget Office at the same time. We spend about the first two weeks just verifying the information and cleaning it up and then making sure our numbers match what LSO (Legislative Services Office) has. And we're through that now. Beginning last week, my staff did the first presentation to me. I went through all of them, that's just a first read, but last week they did the first formal presentation to me "here's what the agency requested" and "here's what the DFM staff has recommended." We then take that to the governor. We meet with the governor once or twice a week between now and Thanksgiving, And then we spend between Thanksgiving and Christmas making sure all the numbers line up and making sure that all the language is correct and that kind of stuff and then we have it ready to go to the Legislature by Christmas.

Have you started with zero based budgeting?
No. What the governor's done is, his idea we talked about early when I first came on, I talked to him, and he kinda filled a niche for what he wanted to do, so we're doing a modified zero base budget approach, what we are doing is over six years, every branch of the executive, every office with the executive branch will go through a round of this. So this year we did three or four agencies, next year we'll do nine or 10, and then eventually we get to everybody. And what we're doing is we’re going in to the agencies and asking them to take a look at what they're required to do and how they're meeting those requirements. And also what are they doing that's not a requirement, but they're doing and why? And then matching up what the priorities are. If an agency has 50 things they have to do, but 10 of them are outdated, or 10 of them haven't been done for the last 20 years even though they are required to, well then we probably have a statute change we need to do. They may have been given something and not enough resources to address it, but we want to free up. So we're not starting at zero here, zero based budgeting or anything is just start with zero and build your way up, we're starting with "what are you required to do, what resources is it gonna take?" and then "what do we want to build on top of that," so, this year several agencies went through it, we found some really interesting stuff that will be in the governor's budget for next year.

Can you give me some examples of surprising things?
Uh, at the Department of Agriculture they found several programs, or operations, I wouldn't necessarily call them programs, things that they've done, things that they've always done but no one knows why. And they've always done 'em so they continue to do 'em every year. Well, we're going to eliminate that, if nobody knows why you’re doing it or who's benefiting from it, we're going to eliminate it. They found another program, that actually -

Could you give me one example?
There's a well monitoring program, that Department of Ag does, where they go out and take water samples from wells. DEQ also does the same thing and so does Water Resources. But Department of Ag was doing it as well. And when asked why, nobody exactly knew. They're not required to by any state law or any program requirement, but they just always have. So, we're going to stop doing that. No one's going to miss it. Because DEQ and Water Resources are already doing it too. The question then comes, when we do DEQ's zero-based budget, why are they doing it, why not Water Resources, that kind of stuff. And I don't know what all, the chief found a handful of 'em, but that's the one I remember.

What other departments did you guys do this year?
So this year, the Department of Ag, Water Resources were the two main ones we went through. Then a whole bunch of the small, like the Arts commission, went through it, th e... we started ISP, the State Police, and they requested more time to complete, and so they have a two year cycle instead of a one year cycle, so they'll be in next years when they complete it, but they got started for a while, I don't remember all of them, there's a list on our web page, but I don't remember. But we purposely kept it very small the first year just to find out and we found out a lot of interesting stuff, for example at Agriculture they've set up a very organized methodical method where they have forms they fill out and Water Resources it was kinda done more just everyone around a table and we found that the more structure you put to it, the better results you get. And so it was kind of an experiment year this year. Next year we have some bigger agencies going through it and we've learned how to do it so we'll be a lot faster at it. And then what we do is we're taking those results we find with those programs that she's going to eliminate at Ag and we'll incorporate it into the governor's budget recommendation. It actually requires some of the zero-based budget stuff, like eliminating programs that have out-used their usefulness, well they’re in code, so they'll actually be bills brought to the Legislature to change that code, to remove that requirement, because it's outlived its usefulness, so we have a legislative package but also in the budget there's probably nine, 10, 11 lines that say "zero based budgeting initiative".