Taking a cue from the Reagan Administration, Ventura County Supervisor Maria VanderKolk is trying to sign up local business executives to help uncover government waste.
As envisioned, a commission of private-sector financial experts would look for waste and inefficiency in the county's $700-million annual budget and forward cost-cutting recommendations to the Board of Supervisors before the next budget is adopted this summer.
VanderKolk, recently named to the board's budget committee, is assembling the commission independently of her fellow supervisors and county administrators. She said it will be modeled after the so-called Grace Commission that President Reagan created to apply private business practices to federal spending.
"I personally believe we run a pretty tight ship," VanderKolk said Friday. "I think you would find much more waste in Los Angeles County or at the state and federal level. But I also know that we're facing a real difficult year again, and we need to find any waste that we possibly can."
The county budget has undergone extensive review over the past 18 months as a result of successive budget cuts that have reduced spending across the board by about 7%.
Supervisor John K. Flynn said Friday he supports VanderKolk's efforts, because inefficiency remains in spite of the recent spending scrutiny. He said, however, that private-business practices are not adaptable in all instances to public spending, and said VanderKolk should make clear to commission members that their recommendations would not be blindly embraced.
"You can't treat spending on social programs like you do Sears & Roebuck," Flynn said.
"I'm not going to feel any political pressure to adopt what the commission recommends," he added. "But if they have merit, I'll accept them."
VanderKolk, who took office in early 1991, has been trying to get more involved in budget planning in recent months. She recently replaced Flynn on the budget subcommittee after arguing that membership should be rotated among supervisors.
"The budget committee is very powerful, and they make a lot of recommendations to the board that are typically followed," she said.
VanderKolk's office sent out solicitation letters earlier this week to a number of the county's largest businesses--including Amgen, 3M, Bank of A. Levy, Proctor and Gamble, and Rockwell--seeking five to 10 volunteers to serve on the commission. No one has responded yet.
"The people I'm looking for are not the CEOs (chief executive officers), but the numbers crunchers who can say 'You're spending too much in this program or in this department,' " she said.
VanderKolk said she believes the commission's findings stand a greater chance of being adopted than those of the Grace Commission, whose extensive list of proposals were largely ignored by members of Congress with conflicting interests.
"In the county system, the ideas could be explored more fully and with more cooperation between five supervisors than you ever would get in Congress," she said.