Lesson 6: Ask for what you need and no more.

Too often in government, budget requests are cynical money grabs. I have often seen this with the federal government, but this also occurs with local and state governments.

A department will often ask for more than what it needs to function adequately. As the fiscal year rolls on, there is an attempt to “use it or lose it.” Strange and unnecessary expenditures take place in order to make sure a line item for next year’s budget is adequately funded. I recall one Veteran’s Hospital replacing the black top on the parking lot every year in order to make sure that it would have the funds for the next year.

My office took a different approach. Every budget session, we asked for what we needed and no more. Our total expense by year’s end came close to the amount budgeted.

Over the years, my chief investigator and I developed trust with the people in the Finance section of the county government. They learned our pattern over the last 11 years and they trusted it. Consequently, we were never denied to any significant degree at budget time.

Other departments in the county using the cynical money grab approach found themselves frequently subject to an “across the board” budget cut. The folks in Finance discovered over time that some departments did not really need what they asked for, so in lean times their budget was cut with little repercussion.

Unlike many other county departments, cutting the budget for the coroner or medical examiner can have dire consequences. While we strenuously resisted budget cuts during the lean years, we demonstrated over time for all years that we only asked for what we needed. This served to protect the office from arbitrary budget cuts because those in decision-making positions learned to trust us.

On the other hand, many nearby coroner offices, particularly rural offices, are inadequately funded. Too often, the remaining funds in the budget will determine whether or not an autopsy is performed.

Available funds should never be a criterion for whether or not an autopsy should be performed. We only have one opportunity, because once the body is buried, important questions that need answers can never be obtained as easily or as inexpensively as before. Information readily available before the embalming and burial is often lost by the time a body has to be exhumed for an autopsy. If the body is cremated, physical information in any form may be gone forever.

One should always order and perform procedures based on the needs of the case and not on the availability of funds. I will never allow the lack of funding to be an excuse not to perform an autopsy!

I tried to run the office in such a way as to provide “value.” Value in this setting is defined as providing the highest possible quality for the lowest possible cost. I looked for the most cost-effective ways to do excellent work. I will share some of my strategies in the chapters to come.