Agriculture Commissioner Leonhardt cleaning up government waste

Good for West Virginia Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt for identifying and cleaning up some of the waste of taxpayers’ money in West Virginia. Unfortunately, government is a fertile field for such efforts.

Given the governor’s theatrics last year, he could probably shed some light on use of the word “fertile,” here.

Residents of our area had every reason to expect good things from Leonhardt. Before being elected to the agriculture post, he had served as state senator from the Second District, which includes all or parts of Wetzel, Tyler, Doddridge, Ritchie, Gilmer and Calhoun counties, as well as three others.

Even before he took office, Leonhardt had heard of a boondoggle presided over by his predecessor, Walt Helmick. Not long before he left the position, Helmick had the department open a potato “aggregation center.” At the time, he referred to it as a good way to invest $475,000 to help Mountain State farmers market their potatoes.

It didn’t work out that way. When Leonhardt took the reins, he found the aggregation warehouse contained tens of thousands of potatoes that were rotting. The facility never operated in a meaningful way.

Leonhardt found other waste, including a $160,000 chicken processing trailer, and is moving to end such programs. At the same time, he gives credit to Helmick for trying new approaches to boosting West Virginia’s agriculture economy.

Again, kudos to Leonhardt for recognizing mistakes, however well-intentioned, and correcting them. Some other new department heads are engaged in similar reforms.

Why is this a process that never seems to end, however? Why is it that there seems to be a steady supply of boondoggles, costing taxpayers millions of dollars, in Charleston? Is it something about the culture of state government?

Sometimes it appears that is the problem. Waste and inefficiency seem to be accepted. In addition to correcting specific problems, then, Leonhardt and other reformers should take on West Virginia’s version of “the swamp.”