Moving deck chairs 

Governor Hutchinson has promised to soon reveal his ideas for "transforming government" — a reorganization aimed at reducing the number of departments that report to the governor.

Will goodness and merciful efficiency follow? History tells us it's more likely to be a rearrangement of the deck chairs on the good ship Arkansas.

Here's what we know for sure. He won't propose to combine the multiple retirement agencies for state employees. Pesky retired judges, teachers, highway workers, State Police and bureaucrats under one umbrella? Not good.

He does want to combine the Department of Correction with Arkansas Community Correction. Both do some incarcerating. The latter handles probation and parole and is woefully understaffed. Same for the seams-bursting prisons. Creating a new department will help? Not likely without more money. Sheila Sharp got booted at Community Correction for not cutting staff as close to the bone as the governor wanted.

Then there's some wacky stuff going around. Insurance Commissioner Allen Kerr proposes to combine some 24 agencies, from his own to the tow truck and mobile home regulatory boards, under his command. The better to have an excuse to build the executive palace he's long wanted to build across from the Capitol.

Apparently under serious discussion is an idea to combine, among others, the Economic Development Commission, Parks and Tourism and Heritage. All aim, I guess, at luring people to the state for business or pleasure. A mountain of ad money would be the prize for the megaboss of this mega agency, maybe Mike Preston, the first-class flyer at AEDC.

Under serious consideration too is a Homeland Security Department, rounding up the State Police, Emergency Management, the drug czar and others. Republicans love to talk about the homeland.

I'm expecting "transformation" to shortly become campaign fodder. It might appeal to voters. But remember the disastrous merger of the Department of Human Services with the Department of Health, soon undone.

Also look at the behemoth created by rolling multiple agencies into the DHS. It's produced the rehoming scandal, the behavioral services scandal, the feeding program scandal and a reputation for callousness toward courts and the unfortunate people it serves.

Efficiency is supposed to be understood by gullible voters to mean reduced spending. You save money by cutting costs. Most costs are people. Mega agencies will mean new six-figure bosses. They will need entourages — secretaries, flacks and, if they're like Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, lots of guys with earpieces and sidearms driving big, black SUVs.

All of the disparate divisions will remain, unless we propose to end securities regulation or oversight of the real estate industry.

If history is a guide, losses will come in jobs or pay at the lowest level, the place where most services are delivered. See the parole officers who struggle to keep up with their workload and whose unmet needs cost former Community Correction's director Sharp her job. See the efficiency in cutting off Medicaid to thousands of poor people because they don't have computer access.

The governor is exactly right in thinking that a merger of financial services for different types of retired state workers doesn't make sense. But mushing the groundskeepers at Toltec Mounds State Park under the umbrella of AEDC boss Preston's Department of Chinese Corporate Welfare does?

A final scary thought: What if the vindictive Stacy Hurst, now presiding over the colonnaded Department of Arkansas Heritage building, emerged even higher on the new Arkansas bureaucratic superstructure?




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