According to Andrew Loftus’ commentary, “Chesapeake 2000: a legacy to be proud of or just another document?” (Bay Journal, December 1999), it appears that the Chesapeake 2000 agreement will be pointing the Bay Program toward a set of three priorities: continued nutrient reduction, dealing with uncontrolled growth in the watershed area and engaging the public. This is extremely disappointing, in effect saying that the Program will just keep chugging along, while blaming the public for the problem.

Nutrient reduction was the priority 13 years ago when it was targeted by the Executive Council in 1987. Of course, the effort must be continued. But listing it among the priorities for post-2000 implies that we have nothing much to say after spending $100 million-plus on research about what ails the Bay. It also implies that the Bay Program, once the vanguard of change, is now a comfortable old program that just wants to keep things the way they are.

Dealing with uncontrolled or unmanaged growth is certainly a relevant issue for the Bay’s health. But it seems to me that this is a state and local issue, and decidedly not a federal government issue. The Founding Fathers might, I suspect, object to a federal program that seeks dominion over local governance. Making this a priority for an EPA-led program tees up a fight over Constitutional issues, when what we want to do here is restore an estuary.

Engaging the public is also a good thing, but is it a priority for the Bay Program? It seems to me that the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has done a great job of engaging the public about saving the Bay, and I would be concerned if the government now established a priority of engaging the citizens, as if this is a novel idea. Engaging the public is a fundamental function of government, not a program priority.

Based on the above, the Chesapeake 2000 agreement sounds like a big nothing. It looks like a statement that the Bay Program should just continue as is, while adding efforts to control and influence citizens. Is this what the taxpayers are paying for? Is this the best we can do? I hope not! There is much more to be done, and there is urgency to do it, and a need to be refreshed and excited about it!

The Bay Program should, in my opinion, have a renewed set of priorities that relate to what the government is good at doing, not “controlling growth” and “engaging the public” and otherwise spreading itself so thin, trying to cover so many issues that it fails to succeed with any of them. Focus and setting priorities means getting more specific, not more general.

What does government do well? Subject to debate, I would suggest three things. First, government funds research, although it often has difficulty putting all of the new information to good use. Second, government buys end results by funding contractors to do specific work, although it often wastes some money trying to select the low-price bidder (a paradox that is beyond the scope of this commentary). Third, government is good at meeting with other governments.

Taking those three “virtues” about government, I would suggest three priorities for the Bay Program’s Chesapeake 2000 agreement:

  • First, the Bay Program might set a priority on putting the growing body of scientific information to better use, making it available and applying it to the everyday lives and work of the 14 million people who live in the watershed. We have made a big investment. Let’s put it to good use.
  • Second, the Bay Program might set a priority on the physical restoration and rehabilitation of the Bay and the watershed area by steadily increasing the fraction of the budgets going to contractors for oyster restoration, fish stock building, reforestation, SAV restoration, wetlands reclamation or farm nutrient control.
  • Third, the Program might set a priority on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the Bay Program itself and all of its associated organizations. Too much of the budget is being consumed in meetings, travel, internal communications, management plans or administration. A little shakeup can be good, every 10 to 20 years. There are too many committees, too many management plans and too much process in selecting what work gets done. Restoring the Bay requires more work, less process.

The priorities listed above would put our investment in research to work, increase the direct restoration of the Bay itself, and make the government employees more effective and efficient. In this way, I respectfully disagree with the draft Chesapeake 2000 agreement, and encourage the Executive Council to consider alternative views. I believe that everyone working on the Bay restoration should get a Year 2000 thank you for the good work to date, and a decisive order to get back to work.