By Len Lazarick
The Department of Legislative Services, the legislature’s nonpartisan staff, will get new leadership and a reorganization next year as Executive Director Karl Aro retires, and Warren Deschenaux, director of policy analysis, takes his place.
The move was announced late Monday afternoon by Senate President Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch.
With a staff of 384 and a budget of almost $48 million, Legislative Services performs most of the functions for the Maryland General Assembly, from analyzing budgets and drafting legislation to personnel, IT and auditing all the departments of state government.
The senators and delegates also have their own personal staffs.
Deschenaux, who has headed his office for 17 years, has been one of the most visible members of the legislative staff, briefing lawmakers throughout the year on all things fiscal.
Honest budget numbers
Legislators and reporters rely on Deschenaux for honest budget numbers and explanations of financial topics that even the slow-witted can understand.
In June, there was a brief dust-up with Gov. Larry Hogan’s staff, which accused Deschenaux and DLS of deliberately misstating available transportation funding. But Deschenaux is known as a reliable analyst and critic of state spending under both Democratic and Republican governors.
Aro, on the other hand, while serving in his post for 18 years, is one of the more invisible top administrators, particularly in his role as the top staff person for legislative and congressional redistricting.
While Deschenaux may be getting a promotion, he won’t be getting much of a bump in pay. According to this year’s budget documents, Aro is making $172,900 and Deschenaux, $171,000.
Praise from Miller, Busch
“Mr. Deschenaux is a talented professional known nationally as a fiscal watchdog,” Senate President Miller said in a joint statement with House Speaker Busch. “He has devoted his life to the nonpartisan staff agency for the legislature ensuring that we have the best information possible so that the checks and balances between the branches of government can be carried out.”
“Warren is a respected voice of reason for both political parties in Annapolis,” said Busch. “He embodies the work ethic and dedication that is the hallmark of this department. I am confident he will continue the reputation of Maryland’s Department of Legislative Services as being one of the best in the nation.”
“I expect that it’ll be business as usual,” said House Minority Leader Nic Kipke. It’s my hope that DLS will continue to seek the highest standard of independence and nonpartisan support to the legislature.”
There is occasionally some grousing by Republican legislators that DLS is not as nonpartisan as it claims in analyzing legislation, since the top staff report directly to the Democratic presiding officers.
Praising Aro, Busch said he “is responsible for modernizing this department. The entire General Assembly is grateful for his leadership and commitment to ensuring efficiency and effectiveness in the legislative process.”
Moving into the electronic age
DLS has helped the legislature move slowly into the electronic age, with most documents online. But legislative hearings have been video streamed for only a few years. The legislative chambers are still only wired for audio, but not for video coverage of debate, which seems to suit Busch and Miller.
Despite a large IT department and laptop computers for all legislators, the legislature still runs on paper as required by the state constitution. Bills get printed and reprinted during session at least twice if not three or four times.
Almost a third of the DLS staff (115 people) works for the Office of Legislative Audits based in Baltimore, where most state agencies and employees are found.
Here is a list of the duties of DLS spelled out in state law, with links to explanations of the functions on the DLS website.
- budget and fiscal review, analysis, research, studies, and reports;
- legislative drafting and statutory revision;
- legal research, review, analysis, studies, and reports;
- general research and policy analysis;
- fiscal compliance, financial statements, and performance audits of the State government;
- legislative research, legislative documents, material collection and preservation, and other library services;
- public information services about legislative activities;
- document preparation and publication services;
- legislative information systems development, maintenance, and support for members as well as for the department; and
- administrative support services relating to finance, personnel, distribution, and maintenance for the department and members of the Maryland General Assembly.
Warren’s a good guy and a straight shooter. The only trick with DLS is that you have to ask the questions, they don’t proffer the information.
DLS will need a deep bench to reorganize while simultaneously maintaining the level of service the legislature is accustomed to. This group is as Independent as it gets in MD and OLA is markedly more effective at auditing than the Executive branch IGs. On the other hand, some of DLS’ cost studies of pending legislation have lacked depth.
We shall see how strong DLS’ succession planning is, especially when Descherauz follows Aro into retirement. I hope Warren writes a memoir; I’m a buyer.