(Sean Whaley/Nevada News Bureau) – When Jeff Mohlenkamp decided to accept the job as Nevada’s newest budget director, he knew going in it was going to be a challenge.
The state’s economic slump continues to be a drag on funding government services, although gaming and sales tax revenues have shown some improvement in recent months.
The Department of Administration, which Mohlenkamp oversees as a significant part of his duties, is in the midst of a major merger, with the former Departments of Personnel and Information Technology coming under the agency’s umbrella.
And Mohlenkamp, who has the job of preparing the governor’s budget every two years for submission to the Nevada Legislature, will now be required to use a radically different process, called performance-based budgeting, to prepare the governor’s spending plan.
But after five weeks on the job, Mohlenkamp, 48, who has a varied background in state service dating back to 1986, is enjoying the challenge offered to him by Gov. Brian Sandoval, who named him to the position in June. Former budget director Andrew Clinger left following the end of the 2011 legislative session to become Reno city manager.
Mohlenkamp said his background and experience appeared to fit the bill for Sandoval.
“It’s a daunting task in some regards but I find it to be very exciting,” he said. “The challenges are many. It’s working right with the governor and his staff to achieve some of the over-arching goals of the state.”
While times are tough, it is those very challenges that can push those in charge to step up and think critically about delivering state services in the most effective way, he said. But that process should be happening in good times as well.
“Sometimes tough times force us to modify the way we do business and look carefully at the way we do business, but it really is something we should be doing not only in difficult times but all the time,” Mohlenkamp said.
The state should be well served by the Legislature’s approval of a measure requiring performance-based budgeting, he said. The new process, also called priorities-based or activities-based budgeting, was partially implemented in the 2011 session by Clinger at the request of former Gov. Jim Gibbons.
Historically state agencies have just “rolled up” their program costs, based on increased caseloads and inflation, in preparing new budgets every two years. Programs were not regularly analyzed to determine if they were still needed.
“I think the ultimate goal, whatever terminology is used, is to move towards a different way of looking at state government and the functions it performs,” Mohlenkamp said. “And trying to evaluate what functions or activities government needs to be engaged in, and the relative value of those activities and those functions. It means looking at budgets through a different lens.”
The merger of the various former departments and agencies into the Department of Administration is a major challenge, but much of the work was already under way when he arrived on the job July 11, he said.
Bringing all the services the state provides to other agencies – from personnel needs to information technology – into one central agency, will provide the opportunity to improve services to the many different departments and divisions statewide, Mohlenkamp said.
“Looking at how we can better serve our customers is going to be one of my primary focuses,” he said.
Mohlenkamp’s career in state service began shortly after graduating from the University of Nevada, Reno, in 1986, with a degree in accounting and business management. He went to work for the Gaming Control Board, serving in different positions, including several years as a supervising investigator for the Corporate Securities Division. In this position he reviewed such major publicly held companies as Bally’s and IGT.
After 17 years with gaming, he went to work for the state Division of Internal Audits in 2003, doing performance based reviews of a variety of agencies, including many in the Department of Health and Human Services. From there he worked as the administrative services officer for the Division of Mental Health and Developmental Services, first working under former administrator Carlos Brandenburg, who Mohlenkamp cited as a mentor.
Brandenburg said he was fortunate to have Mohlenkamp as his ASO.
“What separated him from the previous ASOs that worked for me is that a lot of the ASOs strictly crunched the numbers,” he said. “Jeff separated himself because he not only crunched the numbers, and he was very, very good at that, but he also wanted to understand services.
“I knew for a fact that the governor was going to get himself a great, hardworking person,” Brandenburg said. “A person that looks at the numbers, and crunches the numbers, but he also tries to understand the service part of the system.
“What he tells you you can take to the bank,” he said.
Mohlenkamp then moved to the Department of Corrections, where he served as a deputy director of support services, overseeing inmate services, and legislative and financial matters.
Both with mental health and corrections, Mohlenkamp spent a lot of time at the Legislature testifying on budgets, experience that will no doubt serve him well when he has to present Sandoval’s next budget in 2013.
Mohlenkamp said he considers himself a straight shooter, giving lawmakers the information they need to make decisions.
“My goal is to answer straight questions with straight answers,” he said. “The legislative process isn’t always fun, but it’s always interesting.”
Sandoval said Mohlenkamp had the qualities he was looking for in a budget director.
“Jeff is somebody that I’ve known who has served the state with distinction for many, many years,” Sandoval said. “I first met him when he was at gaming when I was on the Gaming Commission. He has also worked at Health and Human Services, he’s worked at prisons, he has testified in front of the Legislature, he has a tremendous amount of experience with budgets, he is very proud of his state and very committed. And so all those attributes were what I was looking for in terms of a budget director.”
“Obviously Andrew Clinger is going to be somebody who is difficult to replace, but Jeff has already dived straight into the job and is doing a great, great service for the people of Nevada,” he said.
When he isn’t putting in long hours in his new job, Mohlenkamp said he likes to sail, scuba dive and spend time with his two children.