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Editorial: No easy days ahead for JLARC

Richmond Times Dispatch, May 15, 2019.

Virginia has long enjoyed a national reputation as one of the country’s best-run states. A well-managed, almost corruption-free state government is one of the reasons for that standing. Another reason, we believe, is the hard work the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) does every day to keep state offices on their toes.

It’s not often we can assure Virginia citizens with confidence that a state agency is not only performing its job well — it’s performing far above expectations. As we have noted on these pages before, JLARC enjoys a strong reputation of solid research and sound advice. Its full-time staff works diligently to save taxpayer dollars and suggest both minor and major improvements in how many of the commonwealth’s policies and programs are managed.

Since its founding in 1974, the watchdog agency has reviewed numerous other agencies and offices and made recommendations that have improved services and ultimately saved state taxpayers about $1.2 billion. JLARC’s staff seeks to ensure state agencies comply with laws in the manner intended by the legislature. Should the JLARC find an agency whose performance is subpar, it is required to make recommendations on how operations could be improved for greater efficiency and effectiveness. Its detailed reports are valued by legislators who rely upon them to make informed decisions.

In Wednesday’s news story, “Watchdog agency takes on ‘robust’ work plan,” RTD reporter Michael Martz notes that “the legislature has implemented 73% of the 352 recommendations the agency has made in reports from 2015 through last year” — which, according to JLARC executive director Hal Greer, is a record.

Because of the agency’s reputation for accuracy and solid recommendations, members of the General Assembly are relying more heavily than ever upon its work. Martz’s article outlines JLARC’s ambitious schedule in the upcoming months. The legislative review commission has approved a work plan that includes studying casino gambling, taking a hard look at both the attorney general’s and inspector general’s offices as well the state’s Department Of Game And Inland Fisheries and its recently restructured IT system. In addition, JLARC staffers will debate expanding a list of diseases the state considers relative “to the work of firefighters, police officers and other hazardous-duty employees and examine the statewide rollout of community services provided for people with behavioral health conditions and how to pay for them.”

Additionally, the agency also will be keeping watch on the progress of Virginia’s Medicaid expansion — a topic that could play a significant role in the November elections that will determine whether the General Assembly is controlled by Democrats or Republicans. Several of the politically charged issues being reviewed are going to make the upcoming months especially challenging for a commission comprised of members from both parties and both chambers of the assembly.

JLARC staffers acknowledge that the planned studies of the inspector general’s office — which is scheduled for September and will look at whether that office should be authorized to monitor local and regional jails — and the attorney general’s office, due in November, will both require a careful approach. One of the areas of concern is Attorney General Mark Herring’s questionable use of outside counsel, although Greer says that isn’t the reason the study is being done.

According to the RTD, Greer is expanding his staff to 30 people to handle the additional tasking. We wish them the best in handling the robust workload, and we anticipate reading their reports and seeing their impact during the next General Assembly session.

— Robin Beres