State/Federal Paperwork: ‘Enough Is Enough!’

Potter County Commissioners Have Had Enough

From pottercountypa.net

Behind a table piled high with government manuals, forms, regulations and voluminous red tape, officials from Potter County’s government gathered Wednesday to make a statement that “enough is enough.” Inviting members of the media to an informal news conference at Potter County Human Services (PCHS) in Roulette, Commissioners Susan Kefover and Paul Heimel along with PCHS Administrator Jim Kockler were joined by PCHS directors. They launched a 35-minute attack on rigid bureaucratic restrictions and demands that eat up two valuable county resources – time and money. Commissioner Kefover organized Wednesday’s media event, which was supported by the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania. She said federal and state regulations may be well-intended, but the way they’re administered is flawed and counties’ burdens are rising as a result.

“Legislators rarely see the final product of the law after the ‘regs’ are added, but we do,” Kefover said. “The local agencies, organizations, and governments are drowning in red tape. The banks of common sense have been removed, and bureaucracy is flooding the land.”

Heimel pointed out that, because such a large proportion of county employees’ time must be devoted to meeting administrative requirements, fewer resources are available to accomplish the goals of government programs. “Somewhere along the line, the state seems to have lost sight of what really matters here, which is taking care of people in need,” he added. “The state is clearly passing the buck to the counties and making us responsible for more services that one could argue are not really a county government’s responsibility.” He described the trend as “gradual, steady and maybe even sneaky  . . . It’s really a case of the state passing the buck and forcing counties to pay for more programs by raising taxes.”

“It is difficult to provide assistance with this much of a load on one’s back.” Kefover added, pointing to the binders and file folders piled in front of the speakers. “Many people who work in social service and health care entered the fields to make a difference in the well-being of others. Instead, their time is spent filing reports, learning new regs, and trying to stay out of trouble with the bureaucrats.”

She offered a series of solutions:

  • streamline and simplify regulatory language;
  • give more local discretion in spending;
  • invite legislators and bureaucrats to the front lines to see how their policies actually appear on the desks of those who must enact them;
  • differentiate between city and rural life and cultures.

PCHS Executive Director Jim Kockler confirmed that the mission of his agency – meeting people’s needs – is compromised by administrative demands of the federal and state governments. The comments were echoed by several PCHS directors who also attended Wednesday’s news conference. Donna Foust, Ken Hoffman, Joy Glassmire, Melissa Gee and Mark Benson all detailed how their departments’ efforts to serve clients is adversely affected by the paperwork avalanche and rigid guidelines.

“Some flexibility would help,” Kockler said. “There are occasions where we have to send money back to the state because — as a rural county — we don’t have as much need for the narrow focus of that particular grant, but yet we have waiting lists and have to turn people away for other programs because we don’t have the funds.”