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Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. plans a big shake-up in state government that would split a department, shuffle employees around and shutter the Washington, D.C., satellite office.
Adding there will be more modifications to come, Huntsman said Thursday the proposed changes will drive government to be more efficient while also making more sense.
Huntsman releases his proposed budget today, with expected recommendations to bump up salaries for state employees, especially teachers and troopers. He still has to persuade lawmakers to approve his plans on reorganization and salaries.
"All I'm trying to do is make [state government] more accountable to the taxpayers, operate more efficiently," he told reporters during an informal briefing session at a Salt Lake City sandwich shop.
Part of that is scrapping the 25-year-old Washington office, whose phone message already says it is "permanently closed." The office, Huntsman says, is obsolete since Utah has three congressmen and two senators in D.C. to speak and lobby for the state.
"Let's eliminate a layer that may have served some purpose in the past," Huntsman said. He also said he plans to look at closing some of the state's foreign economic development offices, located in various countries from Chile to Japan. The new governor, a former U.S. ambassador to Singapore, says he will be the "responsible party" for international business development.
Huntsman, whose campaign focused on economic development, already has jostled that department, ousting 33 at-will staffers and naming Chris Roybal, the former director of the Economic Development Corp. of Utah, to be his senior adviser on development. Splitting the department, reducing the staff and bringing it directly under the governor will make it more efficient, Huntsman said.
"We can make use of existing assets better than we [are] today," he said.
The proposed Community and Arts Department primarily would promote the state's arts, which Huntsman says deserves more prominence.
He said the government won't be "micromanaging, but maybe promoting, projecting, acting as a focal point, for all of our vast, scattered interests."
Huntsman also plans to shake up the information technology operations in state government that are now strewn across all programs and agencies without a centralized line of control. The state's chief information officer, for example, only technically has two employees, while the state employs about 1,000 information technology workers.
Huntsman's chief of staff, Jason Chaffetz, said there may be some $700,000 in unused software that has never been opened - a problem he says would be solved with a single IT department.
Noting that he might want to promote energy development in the eastern Utah plateaus, Huntsman also plans to place the state's Energy Office directly under his control, moving it out of the Department of Natural Resources.
"It's really to promote economic development in the state," he said, noting that Utah needs to bolster the use of its own resources, and look for renewable energy and "innovative" sources.
The governor also wants to create a Public Lands Coordinating Office within the Natural Resources Department that would work with the newly appointed rural affairs coordinator, former Lt. Gov. Gayle McKeachnie. The office would not cost any more money, Huntsman said, but would consolidate work of several offices into a "one-stop shop for public lands policy."
House Speaker-elect Greg Curtis says legislators would welcome suggestions on how to save money and make government more efficient. He says lawmakers will look seriously at the proposals if Huntsman can show they are needed.
"We'd be ecstatic if the governor could identify and say, 'OK, here's some programs, and some consolidation and things that I can do and we can save $20 million,' '' Curtis said. "We'd love to find that kind of money."
Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. revealed plans Thursday to change some state operations. He wants to:
l Close the two-person, governor's Washington, D.C., office and hire occasional lobbyists instead.
l Shift remaining development employees from the Department of Community and Economic Development to work for the governor's senior economic development officer and create a new Community and Arts Department that will focus on boosting the state's arts.
l Realign the state's 1,000 information technology workers, who currently work for various departments and do not report to the state's chief information officer.
l Move the Human Resources Department under the Administrative Services Department.
l Bring the state's Natural Resources Department's Energy Office under the governor's office.
l Create a Public Lands Coordinating Office under Natural Resources to deal with wilderness and land-use issues.