Editorial: When it comes to state-commissioned studies, less is probably better

Conducting studies on which to base a decision is part-and-parcel of the political process, but that’s not to say the requests for studies don’t get out of hand. In the 2013 session, Vermont legislators asked for 133 studies. That’s on top of previous studies, many of which are requested annually, bringing the tally to 326, according to a recent report in VtDigger.org.
That’s a lot of paper, but most importantly, it’s a lot of time state bureaucrats are spending researching and crafting the reports — and time spent is money spent. The object, of course, is to make sure all reports are essential. But many are not.
Budget and management director Otto Trautz told VtDigger that “some reports are critical. Some sit in the corner.”
The Legislature does have a process in place to weed out superfluous reports. The House and Senate Operations committees go over the list toward the end of each session and cull it to an agreed-upon level. And, in 2009, a law was passed that established a five-year expiration date on all on-going reports. The law takes effect on July 1, 2014, finally putting pressure on the Legislature to justify continuation of all reports based on how useful they are.
But we wonder if the process couldn’t be even more efficient if the Legislature were given a limit not to exceed for each session, say 75. That makes the Legislature responsible for curbing its own excesses and focusing on studies that pertain to the most crucial issues facing the state.
Forcing the Legislature to create such priorities could potentially have a negative impact if the consequence prompted legislators to act without adequate study, but we’d take our chances. Our bet is the modus operandi would force the Legislature to be more discerning of its requests for studies and allow committee chairs to limit discussion on issues that weren’t all that essential to governing the state. It’s another example in which less is probably better.
Angelo S. Lynn

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