By: Mitchell Moonier
Historically, state governors have assumed the role of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) to which their department heads answer to. Now, there is a new trend that is reshaping the structure of state governments. Democrat and Republican governors, alike, are appointing Chief Operating Officers (COO). The goal: make government more efficient.
Similar to what we know as the “C-suite” in the corporate world, a state COO oversees the operations of the executive branch ensuring efficient service delivery while maintaining accountability to the people they serve. Seven states have experimented with the idea, but the extent in which these efforts have achieved their goals is difficult to gauge. In Nebraska, Governor Pete Ricketts credited former-COO Felix Davidson with improving the service delivery of ACCESSNebraska, the state’s hub for economic assistance. In other states, such as Arizona and Rhode Island, COOs are assuming additional roles within their respective administrations. Rhode Island COO Eric Beane stepped in to head human services after the failed implementation of the state’s new benefits system. In Arizona, Henry Darwin became interim director of economic security following numerous scandals within the department. Nonetheless, more governors are subscribing to the concept. Just this week, Missouri Governor Eric Greitens appointed Drew Erdmann as COO.
The role isn’t without opposition. Opponents argue that the concept of a COO, and their accompanying six-figure salary, is counter-intuitive to promoting efficiency. Others claim that the position introduces confusion to the executive chain-of-command as some COOs report to the governor, and others report to chiefs-of-staff. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper seems to have taken steps to address both concerns by redefining the role of his lieutenant governor to include the responsibility of COO.
Success is driven by innovation. There is hesitation to apply corporate practices to government—and rightfully so. However, as state budgets tighten, governments need to become more innovative while addressing inefficiencies. Implementing a state COO will not be the answer to every state-level problem, but it is an innovative trend. If ignored, taxpayers may find themselves paying more for less.