PennDOT still running errands for lawmakers

Back in May, the grand jury charged with investigating corruption in Harrisburg issued a blistering report recommending sweeping changes to state government. The report touched on many areas, including shrinking the size of the legislature, campaign finance reform, and term limits for lawmakers.

One of the most eye popping portions was about a special unit in PennDOT. According to the grand jury, there is a small staff dedicated to doing nothing but running errands for state lawmakers.

And 35 state workers in PennDOT are "dedicated to handling nothing other than the paperwork received from the elected members of the General Assembly," the report states. "Not surprisingly, nothing about the work performed by this unit within PennDOT suggests that there is any need for state legislators to serve as intermediaries between their constituents and PennDOT."

After the report came out, Gov. Rendell expressed outrage and vowed to shut down the unit and send the employees to other parts of the department. But -- surprise, surprise -- it hasn't been done yet.

Rendell spokesman Gary Tuma said the special unit will still be disbanded -- and "soon" -- and its employees reassigned to other jobs. But, Tuma said, "we will try to preserve some of [the unit's] functions within PennDOT." The details are still being worked out, but that could mean that a few employees will likely still be accepting requests from lawmakers.

We can't help but be outraged that this unit still exists. It obviously takes time to reassign employees and figure out how to close down part of the department, but that's no excuse. There is no reason that these workers should continue to do the bidding of the state legislature. Frankly, we'd rather see them sit on their hands all day than keep helping elected officials deliver goodies to their constituents.

This story also makes us a little depressed about the likelihood that real reform will come to Harrisburg. It's already taken more that two months for Rendell to do something about this unit at PennDOT. If there isn't the political will to make that happen, what chance do the bigger reforms have in the legislature? Even the most obvious stuff, like a group of staffers who basically help lawmakers get reelected by providing speedy service, seems to be impossible to change.

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