Make DHEC reform a priority
Catherine Templeton, director of the state Department of Health and Environmental Control, has added her voice to the chorus of those who have long supported a fundamental reorganization of the sprawling agency.
Ms. Templeton wants the agency’s public health duties separated from its environmental component as its own agency. The mission of the agency’s two major components is too disparate for a functional fit,
The Legislature should heed this latest expert advice on DHEC. In 2003, then-Gov. Mark Sanford recommended a division of the agency into separate public health and environmental agencies. But his plan got nowhere in the Legislature. Neither did the 2009 recommendation by DHEC’s appointed board for agency Cabinet status.
In Mr. Sanford’s plan, the environmental part of the agency would have been merged with other environmental agencies, such as the state Forestry Commission and the state Department of Natural Resources, as a single department.
Those recommendations make such obvious good sense, you have to wonder why the Legislature hasn’t advanced any of them. Then again, the Legislature hasn’t yet been able to finalize the creation of the long-debated Department of Administration, despite three years of review.
As usual, the Senate is primarily to blame, as reform efforts grind to a painful halt in the upper chamber at the end of the legislative session. It can’t be mere incompetence.
More likely, the Senate’s inaction is a reluctance to do anything that would erode its authority in this legislatively dominated state. The creation of the Department of Administration would curtail the power of the legislative budget committee chairmen on the Budget and Control Board, where they have the same vote as the governor.
Elsewhere the Legislature is loath to part with its cherished perquisite to make appointments to state boards and commissions.
Because many agencies continue to have policy decided by boards and commissions, there is inadequate oversight to state operations and insufficient accountability when things go wrong.
Apparently, that’s generally fine with the Legislature, until an agency really crashes and burns — for example the state Employment Security Commission. Legislators were supposed to be providing oversight to that agency as it went $900 million in the hole. After the train wreck became apparent, the Legislature deftly passed the ESC, which had been managed by three ex-legislators, over to the governor’s office.
Similarly, the Legislature was happy to get rid of the Division of Motor Vehicles, a perennial problem agency. Gov. Sanford’s quick turnaround of DMV as a model of efficiency should have convinced the Legislature of the wisdom of quickly adding other agencies to the Cabinet. But it didn’t
Government reform is so difficult to achieve in South Carolina that it almost seems pointless to recommend that legislators do the responsible thing and complete the reorganization of state government started under Gov. Carroll Campbell in the 1990s. As the state’s chief executive, the governor should be allowed to exercise executive authority across the range of state responsibilities and be held accountable for her or his actions. The Legislature should act accordingly to make it happen.
The pending Department of Administration bill should be first on the Legislature’s reform agenda next session.
Reorganizing DHEC shouldn’t be far behind.