Sheheen: Government Restructuring Is Job No. 1
It’s time to take another giant step in reforming South Carolina’s state government to improve accountability for the hardworking people of our state.
Over the last few years, South Carolina has gone backwards in so many areas – we’re now one of the toughest places in the nation to earn a living and achieve the American dream, while our government has failed on its most basic functions. But one of the places where we are moving forward is in modernizing our state government in an effort to improve accountability.
Last year, I introduced S. 22, a restructuring bill to overhaul and reform South Carolina’s legislative and executive branches. I worked across the aisle to ensure the bill speedily passed the Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support. Then it was altered and passed late in the session by the House of Representatives.
A conference committee has been appointed to hammer out the differences in anticipation of the upcoming session. So now we have an exciting opportunity to reconcile the two versions and make history for our state.
The joint conference committee must begin meeting and work hard to reach a resolution. Either version of the bill would move the ball significantly forward in continuing the reforms of state government, which are imperative to improve accountability.
South Carolina has already transformed what was formerly a weak governor’s position to an influential and important leadership role. During the 1970’s the governor became eligible for election to more than one term.
In the 1990s and 2000s the governor was given the power to appoint the directors or boards of most important state agencies, including the Department of Revenue, Department of Workforce, Department of Social Service, and Department of Health and Environmental Control. The idea is that governors should be accountable for the results of their state agencies’ performance.
But the work has not yet been completed.
My restructuring bill will improve two remaining, critical areas of state government. First, modernization of the legislature has not kept pace with empowerment of the governor’s office. The result is an embarrassing lack of oversight of state programs and agencies by our elected representatives. Programs are often maintained on autopilot for years with little review or evaluation by elected leaders to see if results are being obtained by the executive branch.
State agencies operate essentially outside of public view unless disaster strikes because of incompetence or neglect. If the governor is not robustly managing programs, state government wastes money and fails to deliver essential services as we should all expect. Recent scandals and failures in multiple executive agencies are dire examples of what can go wrong with a failure of leadership and when the Legislature is not shining sunshine on executive agencies.
My restructuring bill will empower and require the Legislature to hold regular oversight hearings of state agencies, investigate allegations of dysfunction and abuse, and review the effectiveness of governmental programs so that we ensure programs are working for the people of South Carolina.
The bill also modernizes state government to eliminate the Budget and Control Board and instead create a Department of Administration within the Governor’s cabinet to achieve greater accountability in areas like car fleet management, building management, and other mundane but important internal operations of state government.
I have led the charge to establish oversight while continuing to empower the governor’s office because I believe in greater accountability — no matter which party or person is at the helm.
Politics change every day, but a government’s structure must last for generations. Effective leaders combined with a good government structure lead to a state’s success. We deserve both.
Vincent Sheheen represents Kershaw, Lancaster and Chesterfield Counties in the South Carolina Senate. This oped – reprinted with permission – originally appeared in The (Charleston, S.C.) Post and Courier.