AUGUSTA — The LePage administration is revamping its plan to create a new streamlining agency following bipartisan concerns over the breadth of its investigative and subpoena powers.
The proposed Office of Policy Management stems from the governor's plan to dismantle the State Planning Office. In addition to a mission to find $1 million in annual savings in state government, the new agency would be endowed with the ability to investigate other departments and review proprietary information.
Republicans are generally supportive of the new agency, however, several GOP lawmakers on the Legislature's budget-writing committee have expressed strong reservations about a new ability to subpoena without judicial approval.
Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, and Rep. Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, said they were uncomfortable giving an agency sweeping subpoena powers without a court review.
Such misgivings have prompted the administration to revise the proposal to make sure judges have to approve subpoena requests.
The State Planning Office currently has subpoena power, but the administration plans to make the new agency more of an investigative and oversight tool for the governor.
David Emery, deputy commissioner of the Department of Administrative and Financial Services, has said the new agency would be similar to the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, the Legislature's watchdog agency.
The Legislature's Judiciary Committee is scheduled to review the new proposal Tuesday.
The amended subpoena powers are designed to appease Republican lawmakers. However, Democrats have other concerns about the new agency, including its mandate to find $1 million every year in annual savings. The administration says the savings would be used to fund the OPM operations.
Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, said Monday that such a directive may encourage the OPM to find cuts in other departments when none are available. He said the broad investigative powers of the agency and the savings mandate could facilitate a dynamic where it "survives by destroying other departments."
The OPM is borne from a mandate to reduce government, although critics say the agency is government expansion; five positions eliminated in the planning office will be used to fund "six to 10" OPM positions.
Lawmakers are also concerned that the agency will be overly partisan. OPM is pitched as the executive branch equivalent of the Legislature's Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability. However, OPEGA is overseen by a bipartisan panel, while the OPM would only be accountable to the governor's office.
The new agency would also create a "secret shopper" program in which it would monitor the performance of other agencies, such as the Department of Health and Human Services.
Opponents of the provision say it will foster distrust in state government.
Meanwhile, environmental groups and the Maine Municipal Association are concerned about the dismantling of the State Planning Office. While the administration plans to reassign the SPO duties to other agencies, some worry that the proposal will result in a less efficient and effective land-use planning.
Several legislative committees are reviewing various elements of the governor's proposal. The Legislature is expected to vote on the entire package before adjourning in April.