[nfbwatlk] Report on Yesterday's Meeting with Staff of Governor Gregoire

Mike Freeman k7uij at panix.com
Wed Jan 6 03:38:20 UTC 2010

Fellow Federationists:

Yesterday, Cindy van Winkle, President of the State Rehabilitation Council (SRC) for the Department of Services for the Blind (DSB), Denise Colley, President of the Washington Council of the Blind (WCB) and I met with three members of Governor Gregoire's staff involved in efforts to streamline state government and more efficiently spend the state's money. The staff present were: Kathleen Drew, Executive Policy Advisor, Sustainability, State Government, Reform, Kelly Wicker, Policy Analyst, Government Reform & Kari Burrell, Executive Policy Advisor, Human Services. The meeting lasted about an hour.

It was obvious throughout the meeting that the "bean-counter" mentality holds sway in the Governor's office. The staff apparently views all human services as interchangeable widgets that can be mixed and matched with no diminution of the level or quality of services to those being served by agency reorganization. Put another way, it was clear that the Governor's staff had virtually no concept that rehabilitating the blind is a specialized endeavor involving a unique mix of instruction in the skills of blindness both to clients and their famlies and teaching the clients to cope with the attitudes, erroneous stereotypes and misconceptions about blindness held by society. In the view of the staff, since the umbrella agency of the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) provides human services to many Washingtonians (including those provided by the general rehabilitation agency, the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, DVR), it would be a good fit for DSB. It had not occurred to the staff that DSB might have special accounting expertise in making best use of vocational rehabilitation funds from the Federal Government (Section 110 moneys) and Social Security reimbursements. In fact, the staff maintained that even were the blindness groups successful in protecting the separate agency status of DSB, accounting functions would undoubtedly be ordered to be done by the general accounting agency for the state.

In investigating what organizational structure might be contemplated for DSB, the staff looked at states similar in size/population to Washington but admitted that it had not considered how well services for the blind were rendered by these other states with combined services nor were the consumer groups of the blind in those states consulted to ascertain what the blind themselves thought of their vocational rehabilitation services.

Staff would be interested in statistics re level of services ans satisfaction of clients with such services. I told them that we (both consumer organizations) had a wealth of anecdotal evidence that conglomerate agencies did not serve the blind adequately but that meaningful statistics might be hard to come by because (1) we, the blind, are a small minority and coming up with statistically valid conclusions is thus problematic and (2) how could one easily quantify "good services". (Yes, one can use closures as a measure but this does not always accurately reflect good service.) I did not mention this but, to some degree, efining "good services" is sort of like the late Justice Potter Stuart's definition of pornography: "I can't define it but I know it when I see it!"

Staff asked the three of us if we would meet with the head of DSHS to strategize how to meet our objections while going ahead with the reorganization. I said that we would always talk but that we would be extraordinarily difficult to convince and that we would see everyone in the legislative arena.

It boggles my mind that it never occured to staff to actually ask the blind themselves whether a reorganization was or could be made to work. It is obvious to me that appearances (that is, the structure of government on an agency organization chart) matters to staff almost more than functionality of said agencies. Although I did not state it this baldly, it would appear that in approaching the state legislature, the form of government matters almost more than the substance. I hate to make such a harsh judgment but it is hard not to come to such a conclusion.

So where to we go from here? WE can try to come up with anecdotal information regarding poor VR services under conglomerate agencies. Barring a miracle, however, I believe that we must now mobilize ourselves for the legislative session. I suspect that any reorganization will go through the "Government Operations" committees in the Senate and House. I will ascertain who chairs these committees in the next day or two and we should start making contacts. WE should also begin to contact our local legislators, making it clear that while DSB is not perfect, its current structure and placement within state government should not be altered and that the blind of Washington are united in this view.

Stay tuned.

Michael Freeman, President
National Federation of the Blind of Washington

More information about the NFBWATlk mailing list