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Reform here leads U.S., expert says

Forget for a moment about all the bad state news _ the computer foul-ups, grand jury investigations and secrecy scandals in state government.

Florida is doing something right.

It is among the few states that are in the forefront in reforming and redesigning state government, a national expert said Tuesday.

"You are one of the states reinventing government



. far more so than other states," author Ted Gaebler told state officials at a seminar Tuesday. "You're clearly in the top five (states involved in government reform.)"

Florida is on the right track with its decentralization of the state Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, its Blueprint 2000 plan to reform public schools, and other programs and pilot projects, according to Gaebler.

Florida is moving ahead while many states are content to continue with the same old bureaucracies, Gaebler said.

"You're lucky here," Gaebler said. "Many states don't have a governor and lieutenant governor who care about reinventing government."

Gaebler, a consultant and former city manager, is co-author of the 1992 best seller, Reinventing Government: How the Entrepreneurial Spirit is Transforming the Public Sector.

He spoke to about 150 state officials as part of "A New Vision of Government" seminar sponsored by Andersen Consulting, which specializes in management and technology consulting.

Governments should run like entrepreneurships that encourage smallness and risk-taking, and a sense of ownership that allows employees to focus on new ideas and products rather than just "working for a quick buck," Gaebler said.

Many times, government officials talk a good game about reform, but no one follows through and employees are stifled, he said. Bosses say "get your a-- back to work and quit fooling around with innovation."

The private sector also can be blamed for lack of progress, he said. While private businesses constantly work at changing products and pleasing customers, "In government we never look forward to something new. We're frightened by it," Gaebler said.

Governments need to rely less on traditional tax dollars and be more creative about funding, he said. For example, San Diego makes money by selling old fire hydrants and parking meters and other items people would consider "junk." In another California city, departments sell services to each other.

Innovative funding allows governments to rely less on legislative action for their budgets, Gaebler said.

Lt. Gov. Buddy MacKay, acting HRS secretary, was on hand to talk about some of Florida's successes, including HRS' massive reorganization plan and government reform projects in the departments of revenue, state and labor.

HRS has had a particularly grueling year, with controversies over computer breakdowns, investigations into computer purchasing and Medicaid problems that led to secrecy allegations against top government officials.

MacKay, who took over HRS in March, joked about his huge task in reorganizing the agency.

"I think that's probably a different seminar _ inventing government," he said.