John Finan named as 'change agent'

John Finan

Mary Ann Chastain

COLUMBIA -- Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. John Finan faces a running tab with the federal government projected to top $2 billion and one of the highest unemployment rates South Carolina has ever seen when he steps into the job as interim director of the state Department of Employment and Workforce.

Gov. Mark Sanford named Finan, 67, as his "change agent" for the department, formerly known as the Employment Security Commission. By the time Sanford leaves office in January, he wants the agency to straighten out its finances, operate with transparency and integrate programs and share data with the state Department of Commerce to match job recruitment and placement efforts with the needs of the unemployed.

Finan, who must be confirmed by the Senate, can serve until March, when a new permanent director must be named. Finan said he is not interested in the position long-term.

If he is confirmed, Finan said he must go to the agency's employees to ask questions, read recent audits and management reports and then develop a strategy.

"I've got a limited amount of time to come in and make some changes," Finan said. "In my career in the Air Force, I moved every two years into a new job. I went into a new job, learned it in a hurry, did what I could to improve and then moved on. I see this as very similar."

A permanent director will be nominated by the review panel made up of legislators and members of the public, appointed by the governor and approved by the Senate. The director will serve at the will of the next governor.

Sanford said he selected Finan out of six finalists because of his experience in government finances, appreciation for accountability and an ability to lead with integrity. The governor, who is an Air Force reservist, said he wanted to make clear that the selection wasn't made based on the military affiliation.

"We wanted to be deliberate about putting somebody in who would be a change agent, who had core competence in areas we thought they needed in terms of fiscal, in terms of accountability but not trying to dictate from the grave who the next governor might or might not want to put into this spot," Sanford said.

The Legislature is continuing to draft a plan to fund the account that pays out unemployment benefits.

The fund went broke in late 2008 and South Carolina has borrowed money from the federal government since then. The debt grows daily and comes with interest. The account is designed to be funded by taxes businesses pay each year for every worker on their payrolls.

The state's unemployment rate is 12.2 percent and is not expected to drop into the single digits this year.