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Business Observer Friday, Oct. 14, 2011 8 years ago

Tough Task

A panel of 15 business and government leaders aims to help Florida save $3 billion over four years. It's a big idea kind of group.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

Organization. Florida Government Efficiency Task Force
Mission. To provide the Florida Legislature with suggestions on how it can save $3 billion over four years.
Key. The task force will present its recommendations to the Legislature in January.

A big surprise awaited Abe Uccello in July when he scrambled in late to what he thought was a dinner meeting with his friend Steve MacNamara in Tallahassee.

A Sarasota entrepreneur, Uccello planned to talk government inefficiencies with MacNamara, a longtime heavyweight political player in the capital. At the time, MacNamara had been a chief of staff for both a Senate president and a House speaker.

But when Uccello rushed through the door at the restaurant, Kool Beanz Cafe, he saw not just MacNamara, but a small cadre of politicos holding court. And in the middle was Gov. Rick Scott, who sat next to the only empty seat, the spot reserved for a stunned, and suddenly nervous, Uccello.

A few hours later, Uccello, 38, was on the verge of landing a new high profile, volunteer job: chairman of the Florida Government Efficiency Task Force.

The state Legislature formed the 15-member task force in 2007. It meets every four years, with five members appointed each by the House speaker, the Senate president and the governor. Scott appointed Uccello, who was later voted chairman by the other 14 members.

The task force is assigned to deliver cost-cutting strategies to the Legislature for the 2012 session. And given government's oft-documented penchant for waste, it won't have a shortage of inefficient areas to consider. The task force's ultimate goal is to find $3 billion in savings over four years.

Uccello, who once ran a $200 million unit of Computer Associates in Atlanta, is aware of government's ability to spend unwisely. In fact, Uccello heard one such account soon after he joined the task force: The state Department of Corrections still uses handwritten time cards, a waste he estimates costs at least $5 million a year. “There's room for improvement there,” deadpans Uccello.

Still, Uccello's chat with Scott, which ranged from their similar childhoods to their families to how large government operations could successfully be run like a business, pulled on his civic pride. Uccello had also previously worked with MacNamara — now Scott's chief of staff — on a project to cut waste from the Legislature's technology budget.

“I've never wanted to be someone in the limelight,” says Uccello. “But when the governor of your state asks you to do something, you should be willing to do whatever you can to do it.”

'Like a business'
The committee held its first meeting Sept. 19, and another meeting Oct. 5.

“I think we have a very good group,” says task force member Pat Neal, a former state senator who now runs Neal Communities, a Lakewood Ranch homebuilding firm. “My belief is that based on the quality of the people on the task force the Legislature will pay attention to us.”

The initial task force meeting last month was partially a blue ocean approach to how government can cut costs. Suggestions included consolidation of the state's highway taxing systems; deregulation of professions; and the creation of an office to monitor government accountability.

One key to the process, says former House Speaker Larry Cretul, according to the News Service of Florida, is to purge a “spend it or lose it” philosophy that permeates in state government. To back that, Uccello says the task force agreed in principle at the first meeting on a familiar cut-government-excess strategy: State agencies should be run like a business.

Good intentions, says Uccello, get muddied when that doesn't happen. “So over time,” he says, “you end up with all this duplicative services that obfuscate the purpose of what you are trying to do in the first place.”

On that issue, the task force will consider recommending the Legislature adopt a 1% challenge, where every state agency is required to pare its budget by that amount.

In addition to the run-it-like-a-business mantra, the task force broke down into subgroups that focus on specific issues. Neal, for example, is developing a purchasing system for state agencies, where departments can use combined clout for savings. And Uccello says technology, in just about every agency, is an area where redundant services and expenditures can be cut, with up to 20% savings.

Uccello expects the task force to have at least three, maybe four, solid, workable recommendations for the Legislature by January. Uccello grew up in Hartford, Conn., where he ice-skated on backyard ponds — although he lived with his family in Cocoa Beach for a few years when he was a young boy.

Now Uccello, who has since traded ice skates for paddleboards, considers Florida his home. “I know all over Florida people are hurting,” says Uccello. “And I think in Florida we have an opportunity to do better, and we should do better.”

Big Task

The Florida Government Efficiency Task Force has a bold goal: To find ways the state can save $3 billion over four years. The 15-member task force, formed in 2007, meets every four years. Five members are appointed each by the House speaker, the Senate president and the governor.

Here's a glance at the individuals who make up the task force, nine of which have connections to the Gulf Coast.

Appointed by Gov. Rick Scott:
• Ann Duncan: President and founder of Tampa-based Vertical Integration, a real estate consulting firm. Also a member of the Board of Governors that oversees Florida's 11 public universities.

• Belinda Keiser: Vice chancellor of community relations and student advancement and Keiser University. Past chair of Workforce Florida Inc.

• Frances Rice: Onetime U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and lawyer. Now runs the Sarasota-based National Black Republican Association.

• Eric Silagy: A FPL Energy executive. Has led the company's lobbying efforts in Tallahassee.

• Abe Uccello: A Siesta Key Realtor. Also runs Harvester Consulting, a technology consulting firm.

Appointed by Senate President Mike Haridopolos:
• State Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto: A Republican, Benacquisto, was elected to the state Senate in 2010. District headquarters are in Wellington, but the territory stretches to Lee and Collier counties, and she has an office in Fort Myers.

• Michael Heekin: A founding board member and the initial chief operating officer of medical information website WebMD. Chair's the Florida Governor's Health Information Infrastructure Advisory Board and also serves on the Executive Advisory Board of the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center Total Cancer Care Initiative.

• Pat Neal: A Republican Florida state senator from 1978 to 1986. Now runs Neal Communities, one of the largest homebuilders in the Sarasota-Bradenton region.

• Robert Stork: Founder and president of Vero Beach-based Communications International, an IT and engineering firm with 11 offices spread through Florida, North Carolina and Massachusetts.

• Rob Wallace: A state representative from 1994-2002. A Republican, he founded an environmental engineering firm in Tampa.

Appointed by House Speaker Dean Cannon:
• Commissioner Frank Attkisson: A first-term commissioner with Osceola County elected in 2010. A Republican, he also served in the Florida House from 2000-2008.

• State Rep. Gary Aubuchon: President of Aubuchon Homes. Aubuchon, R-Cape Coral, was first elected to the House in 2006.

• Larry Cretul: Florida House Speaker from 2009-2010. A Marion County Republican, he served in the House from 2002-2010.

• Matthew Falconer: Orange County developer and real estate broker. Ran an unsuccessful campaign for Orange County mayor in 2010.

• State Rep. John Legg: Speaker pro tempore of the Florida House through 2012. Legg, R-Port Richey, was first elected to the House in 2004.

Plan of Action

The Florida Government Efficiency Task Force will propose a series of recommendations to the Legislature in January. These are some of the ideas and concepts the task force has talked about through October:

• A requirement for year-round instruction at colleges and universities;

• Streamlining how the state solicits and accepts bids from outside contractors;

• Reducing the number of rules and regulations at state agencies;

• A limit on the number of state employees per capita;

• More transparency of the budget process;

• Keeping a database of state-owned properties to see what valuable state property could be sold;

• Privatizing state-run entities, including Citizen's Property Insurance;

• Eliminating the Florida pension system and shift to a 401(k)-style defined contribution system.
Source: News Service of Florida

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