Getting people to pay attention to policy discussions has gotten increasingly difficult these days. Far too many people reflexively focus on their emotional response to individual “leaders” – engaging in ad hominem personal attacks against those they don’t like or participating in the fawning, cultish deification of those they do. Part and parcel to this personality-driven approach to politics is the mindless partisanship, hypocritical “our-sideism” and regurgitative “herd-think” so prevalent in our culture.
Also, most of the “discussion” these days is driven around fringe policy debates or a handful of hot-button issues … with most people failing to grasp that their ballots offer very little in the way of real choice on the bread and butter issues of taxes and spending.
Anyway, one of the hardest issues to get people to pay attention to is government restructuring – which is the process of identifying core obligations of government and determining how best to fulfill them.
Such deliberations are necessary to ensure a prosperous society, but here in South Carolina there is simply no appetite to rethink “the way it’s always been done.”
Rather than seriously engage in reform, “Republican” leaders continue to plow ever-increasing sums of money into the same failed network of accountability-averse bureaucracies – expecting this escalating investment to somehow magically produce different outcomes.
Has it? No …
As we often note, the only thing that ever changes in state government here in South Carolina is the cost of failure – which keeps going up.
This year, though, there is some long-overdue discussion in state government about restructuring the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) – an agency which has utterly failed to distinguish itself in responding to the coronavirus pandemic.
S.C. Senate president Harvey Peeler has introduced a bill – S. 2 – aimed at splitting apart SCDHEC’s health and environmental functions. Specifically, Peeler wants to create a new stand-alone health agency and put SCDHEC’s environmental functions into a pair of existing agencies – the S.C. Department of Agriculture (SCDA) and the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR).
His bill would further fold a pair of existing health agencies into this new bureaucracy, and would abolish SCDHEC’s duplicative board – whose members are all appointed by the governor’s office. Instead of appointing a SCDHEC board, Peeler’s bill would provide for direct gubernatorial appointment of the agency’s director with the advice and consent of the Senate (something we have called for repeatedly in recent years).
Do we support his bill? Sort of …
(Click to view)
Certainly we believe Peeler (above) deserves credit for initiating a conversation that needs to be had in the Palmetto State – one that honestly should have been had decades ago when it became clear our state’s antiquated government structure was falling behind the times.
Also, some of his suggestions are quite similar to those outlined more than thirteen years ago by this news outlet as part of a comprehensive blueprint to restructure state government. As part of that manifesto we recommended that …
A South Carolina Department of Public Health and Wellness shall be established incorporating all current health-related agencies and boards under three divisions – finance, health services and human services. The department director shall be appointed by the governor with advice and consent of the Senate.
We also recommended that …
A South Carolina Department of the Environment and Natural Resources shall be created incorporating all current environmental, conservation and natural resource functions of state government. The department director shall be appointed by the governor with advice and consent of the Senate.
Lawmakers declined to act on those recommendations, sadly.
In addition to these efficiencies, we further proposed consolidating state law enforcement agencies under one roof, combining prison and probation functions and creating a single regulatory agency.
Obviously, is not enough merely to “restructure” state government in such a way as to operate more responsively and cost-effectively. As mentioned earlier, the entire government process in South Carolina needs to be “reimagined” – beginning with a fundamental reprioritization of its functions.
Otherwise, politicians are just rearranging alphabet soup bureaucracies … and not fixing the underlying problems.
That’s why this news outlet has consistently called for state government to get itself out of the business of doing certain things it simply should not do. For example, we have repeatedly argued in favor of privatizing higher eduction, transferring the management of our struggling port infrastructure into the private sector and selling Santee Cooper, the state’s atrociously managed power provider.
Sadly, state lawmakers have done none of the above …
Last March, in the immediate fallout from the Covid-19 panic, we penned a column underlining the need for such a reprioritization of government functions.
“When the dust settles from all of this, a long-overdue reassessment of what American taxpayers should – and should not – be responsible for subsidizing must be undertaken,” we wrote “Same goes for the delivery methods responsible for administering core functions (i.e. broken bureaucracies versus market-based methods). Because necessary functions are clearly being shortchanged and unnecessary functions are clearly being funded exorbitantly – not to mention the rampant incompetence and inefficiency in how both are administered out of Washington D.C.”
“The subsidization of non-core functions – and inefficiency in administering core functions – was already unfortunate,” we concluded. “But in the trying days, months and years to come, it simply can no longer be tolerated.”
Unfortunately, state lawmakers continue to show little appetite for these long-overdue reforms – and while this latest proposal is a good conversation-starter, it is nowhere near the sort of comprehensive reform the situation requires.
Peeler’s half-measure with regard to splitting SCDHEC fails to fully streamline health care and environmental tasks in the Palmetto State. It also fails to touch on many other necessary consolidations – and privatizations. Finally, it completely ignores the duplication-breeding involvement of the legislative branch of government in executive branch functions – which is at the heart of a host of accountability issues in South Carolina (most notably as it relates to infrastructure priorities).
Lawmakers should absolutely take up Peeler’s bill … but they need to be very leery of rearranging furniture inside a house that’s burning down and calling it “reform.”
After all, there is a much bigger picture to bear in mind … putting out the fire and erecting a better structure in its place.
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