Q&A: ADN politics reporter on Dunleavy’s quiet move to reorganize the state’s budget staff

Former state senator and gubernatorial candidate Mike Dunleavy talks to the audience during a Juneau Chamber of Commerce forum on Thursday, September 6, 2018, in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/Alaska's Energy Desk)
Former state senator and current Gov. Mike Dunleavy talks to the audience during a Juneau Chamber of Commerce forum on Sept. 6, 2018, in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Alaska got a new governor this month. One of his first orders of business? Consolidating the state’s finances.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy quietly signed an administrative order dated Dec. 5, reassigning certain staff from each state agency to the Office of Management and Budget.

You can’t find that order on any state website, and the governor didn’t announce it. To find out more, Rashah McChesney from Alaska’s Energy Desk sat down on Friday with James Brooks, who covers the legislature for the Anchorage Daily News.

Editor’s note: After this Q&A took place, the governor’s office posted Administrative Order 302 to Alaska’s public notices website on Monday.

Rashah McChesney: Can you tell me a little bit more about this administrative order? What’s in it?

James Brooks: So this is something that affects things behind-the-scenes in how the state handles its budgets. Instead of having administrative service directors in each department handling budgets inside that department and answering to the commissioner, those people now answer to the Office of Management and Budget under the governor. So, think of it as changing the boss. Instead of each commissioner having their own budget team, those budget teams now answer to the Office of Management and Budget, which answers to the governor.

RM: And what what does an administrative services director do. What’s the big deal here?

JB: OK. So, imagine that I’m the commissioner of cheeseburgers for Alaska.

RM: OK, yep.

JB: And the governor comes in and says, “Hey you need to cut your budget by 10 percent.” If I’m the administrative services director, I’m the person that decides, “Well are we getting rid of ketchup and mustard? Or are we eliminating the top bun on everything?”

RM: Oh, that sounds dramatic.

JB: Well — and they have a lot of influence in how the impact of budget cuts affects ordinary Alaskans. I was talking to one state employee who told me a story from a few years ago — and I’ll obscure the details to protect that person’s identity — where the Department of Fish and Game had gotten a budget request cut, and instead of maybe cutting admin services they decided to close a weir. And that got a lot of public attention.

RM: OK, so they really they know the ins and outs of their individual department budgets really well.

JB: They do.

RM: And is this a new idea? What’s the practical purpose of it?

JB: This idea had been floated before and prior administrations. I had talked to the previous commissioner of Administration and Revenue under Bill Walker, and he had told me that he had floated this idea (but) didn’t really pursue it under the Walker administration, and he thinks it’s a good idea. Other former commissioners that I talked to had said it’s a good idea; they just hadn’t followed through on them on it before.

RM: The first people to report on this particular administrative order — they are both pretty critical of the Dunleavy administration for signing an order and not announcing it. And you can’t find the order on any state website. How did you find out about it?

JB: I had been told by a state employee who was familiar with the order it was dated Wednesday and became effective that date. But it still hasn’t been published as of the time we’re talking here. And I found out about it indirectly, and I have to say it: They’re starting up a new administration this week. They just got into office Monday. It’s entirely possible that they just don’t have the full staff yet and didn’t have anyone to post it.

RM: And any word on how long this administrative order is going to take to implement?

JB: Well it’s already in effect, and so — because you’re just changing a boss. It can come into effect pretty quickly. The details on how it will work — we’re still waiting to see because, as always, you change the machinery, but it’s how you use that machinery that matters most.

Correction: The transcript for this conversation has been corrected. Originally a quote from Brooks read,  “… they decided to close a year.” Brooks said “weir,” not “year.”

Rashah McChesney

Daily News Editor

I help the newsroom establish daily news priorities and do hands-on editing to ensure a steady stream of breaking and enterprise news for a local and regional audience.

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