Legislative report on combining Pa. Game, Fish & Boat commissions a waste of money, offers nothing new

Earlier this month, Pennsylvania’s Legislative Budget and Finance Committee released its report, “An Update on the Feasibility of a Combined Fish and Wildlife Commission for Pennsylvania.” I don’t know what it cost taxpayers to research and write this report, but it reveals nothing significantly different from similar reports done in 1989 and 2003, and therefore, is a waste of money.

According to what I think is an overly optimistic legislative report, up to $5 million could be saved if the Game and Fish & Boat commissions were combined. This would come from eliminating one executive director, so-called “duplicated” staff positions (such as a press secretary) at the state level, and regional directors and office staff at the regional level. A number of field officers would also be axed.

When mentioning the costs associated with combining the agencies – such as new uniforms, new vehicle decals, and management issues – the report glosses over other items, such as the cost of working out the differences in contracts with the employees of the two agencies. The costs for many other factors affected by combining the agencies were not calculated, as stated in the report itself.

I’ve seen the same thing in my career as a teacher – maybe you have experienced this happening in your area. Two elementary schools are combined to eliminate a principal – saving the taxpayers money – yeah! But hold on – the next thing we know, that one principal can’t do an adequate job and two assistant principals are hired. Net savings to taxpayers – zero – maybe even a net loss! I would expect the same thing if the Game commission were to be merged with the Fish & Boat Commission.

It comes as no surprise that neither agency is in favor of losing their independence.

“It’s a source of pride for Pennsylvania that we have resisted trends to move to a single agency like other states,” noted Matt Hough, Game Commission executive director.

The report noted that the Fish & Boat Commission has been particularly efficient with its license dollars. “We do a lot with a little,” said that agency's executive director. “The question is, why take two very efficient agencies and combine them into one that is less efficient?”

Bigger is not always better. In fact, if you care about the attention given to our fish and game, the effect is likely to be just the opposite.

This report has received no legislative traction thus far, and I hope that it stays that way. Past surveys have shown that the majority of Pennsylvania hunters and anglers like our current system of two separate agencies. And why not? It works.

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