A little more than 100 days into his four-year term, Gov. David Ige is in a novel place for a new governor.
The former longtime legislator has logged way too many hours at the Capitol to be considered a true rookie, and whatever honeymoon he might have enjoyed was cut sharply short by the slow-motion train wreck that was his nomination of Castle & Cooke lobbyist Carleton Ching to lead the Department of Land and Natural Resources.
While that was certainly the most high-profile challenge in his brief tenure as Hawaii’s CEO, it’s hardly the only one. The new perspective with which he’s seeing state government was apparent in an editorial board discussion last Friday with Civil Beat.
Ige was equal parts incredulous at the inefficient and sometimes remarkably dated nature of administrative operations, and eager to get at myriad challenges where he thinks significant change is needed.
And make no mistake, he does see a big need for change.
Gov. David Ige discusses his priorities and challenges in leading the Aloha State during a Civil Beat editorial board meeting last week.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
“I believe there are many opportunities,” said Ige.
For instance, each month, the state uses 1 million pieces of paper in the payroll process for state employees — 12 million a year and it can’t even do an electronic fund transfer for employee paychecks, he said.
Ige described the Department of Accounting and General Services as “deathly afraid” of converting to an electronic format, but said he’s nevertheless committed to making the change. “Simpler is better. …We ought to be able to do electronic fund transfer.”
EFT payroll is among the low-hanging fruit for a governor who as a state senator helped create an efficiency effort called the Senate Paperless Project. He was surprised recently to learn that one administrative department is still entirely paper based. Yes, paper based. Department leadership asked his support for a digital conversion.
Even in areas where more current management practices have been adopted, they’re often hampered by computer infrastructure that causes the governor “nightmares and sleepless nights.”
“Our state systems are so old, we sometimes have to buy replacement parts on eBay” because manufacturers don’t make them anymore, he said. That’s part of why “a simple request can be like an act of God for state government.”
While getting to a baseline of modernity and efficiency is a primary concern, much bigger and more costly issues also demand his attention.
Crumbling, antiquated state prison facilities in which virtually every bed is triple booked.
Public employee health care and pension systems issues so complex, Ige felt compelled to bring on Wes Machida as state budget director because of his background in pension finance.
An affordable housing crisis, illustrated by a state report released last week showing that Hawaii needs an additional 65,000 new homes over the next 10 years to meet market demands.
The state’s archaic computer system is so bad that “a simple request can be like an act of God for state government.” — Gov. David Ige
Cost overruns totaling nearly $1 billion for the Honolulu rail project and critical, unanswered questions regarding its long-term funding.
A state Department of Taxation leaving too many tax bills unpaid — so much so that it was recently allowed to hire six new auditors to enable more audits in the current tax cycle.
“We do a terrible job of collecting the taxes that are on the books now,” Ige said.
Ige met with Civil Beat just days after a serious breakdown in the state’s traffic management system grabbed the public spotlight: The failure of both the state’s “mobile zip” vehicles that took heavily used zipper lanes offline and caused hellish traffic backups for two days on Honolulu’s busiest highway.
Ige conceded the state should have provided more information earlier to mitigate the worst effects of an incident that trapped thousands in their cars for hours and prevented some downtown workers from being able to travel home at all.
“We should have focused more on communications,” he said. “That’s the engineer in me — focusing on the doing instead of communicating.”
That’s a reflection applicable to more than just Zipnado, as commuters mockingly referred to the highway debacle. The Ching nomination was similarly made worse by a lack of effective, timely communication. Ige readily volunteers he’s “not the most eloquent communicator” and needs to be more effective in publicly articulating his mission and vision.
It’s a sentiment we agree with. New governors might be forgiven for growing pains early in their tenure as they adjust to the demands of embodying the executive branch of government. As Ige has learned, there’s a big difference between serving as a leading state legislator and actually leading the state.
We continue to believe he has the experience, wisdom, ideas and temperament to succeed in this role. But we are also among many who need to hear more from the governor — a lot more — for him to be able to put those assets to their best use.
Disclosure: Through a combination of financial contributions and technical support, the Hawaii Community Foundation’s Omidyar Ohana Fund supports Hawaii’s business transformation and information technology modernization initiative spearheaded by the state Office of Information Management & Technology. Pierre Omidyar, who founded eBay, is the CEO and publisher of Civil Beat as well as a member of the Civil Beat Editorial Board.
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