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Agency review idea has merit

Right after death and taxes, the surest thing is that a government agency, once created, will go on for quite a while, regardless of whether it's needed.

That is what makes a bill passed Monday by the Georgia Senate intriguing.

In a 37-12 vote, the state Senate passed Senate Bill 223, known as the Georgia Government Accountability Act. If passed by the House and signed by the governor, the law would establish a 14-member legislative committee that would review every state-funded agency that is not created by the state Constitution.

"During these challenging economic times, it is imperative to streamline government operations and reduce the size and scope of state government," sponsor Sen. William Ligon, R-Waverly. "The passage of SB 223 was a step in the right direction toward reducing government waste and ensuring that state government runs efficiently while maximizing every taxpayer dollar."

Under the proposal, the review panel would consist of seven House and seven Senate lawmakers, with a floor leader of the governor -- selected by the lieutenant governor in the Senate and speaker in the House -- on each committee. The legislators would serve two-year terms concurrent with their elected legislative terms.

The law would require that the committee apply specific criteria in reviewing a state agency to determine whether its existence serves a public need. The panel would be required to examine:

-- The efficiency with which the agency operates;

-- The extent to which the jurisdiction of the agency and the programs administered by the agency overlap or duplicate those of other agencies and the extent to which the programs administered by the agency can be consolidated with the programs of other agencies;

-- And the extent to which the agency accurately reports performance measures used to justify state spending on each of its activities, services, and programs.

The agencies the committee can review include those under the executive branch -- it's interesting to note here that Gov. Nathan Deal's two Senate floor leaders voted against the bill -- and the panel can ask for information and hold hearings to examine the relevance of government priorities and consider ways to help an agency become more efficient.

Whether this is good for the state -- if the House passes the bill, and if Deal signs it into law, which apparently isn't a done deal -- will be determined by how fairly the law is implemented. Already Democrats are raising valid concerns that the General Assembly is creating its own Super Congress of sorts, a small group that controls the fates of state agencies whose leadership will know that it is in his or her agency's best interest to keep the members of the committee as happy as possible. The bill would certainly an environment conducive to those sorts of shenanigans.

But it is equally true that the hardest act of government is to shut down a government agency that exists only because it has existed.

And it's important to note that the committee wouldn't be able to close down any agency on its own; it could only make recommendations to the full Legislature, which wouldn't required to accept all, or even any of them for that matter.

It's a job that needs to be done. Private businesses have had to closely review their operations to ensure there's no waste. State government should do the same to ensure it is giving its stockholders -- the people of Georgia -- the best return on their investment of tax dollars.

But if this bill passes, it will also be up to each and every citizen of Georgia to keep a watchful eye on what the committee does and how its members interact with the agencies they will review to ensure they really do have our best interests -- and only our best interests -- in mind.