This might be the year state lawmakers finally approve the creation of a Department of Administration that would report directly to the governor. It has been a long time coming.
The state Senate passed the government restructuring plan Feb. 21. The bill now is before the House judiciary committee.
Chief sponsors of the bill, state Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, and Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw, have worked together to pass the bill for two years. Last year, both the House and Senate passed different versions of the plan, but the effort failed as the session ended without a compromise between the two.
This year, however, bipartisan support could be strong enough to carry the bill. Gov. Nikki Haley also has championed the effort for years and urged lawmakers to pass a bill this session.
The bill would eliminate the state Budget and Control Board, which consists of the governor, treasurer, comptroller general and two legislators. This odd hybrid panel, which is unique to South Carolina, oversees the central administrative functions of the state, but few South Carolinians understand exactly how it works.
A ghost of the board would live on, in a sense, under the new bill. A panel with the same membership called the State Fiscal Accountability Authority would be responsible for the state’s procurement functions, reviewing bids and awarding contracts.
But the Department of Administration, if it is approved, would invest far more power in the executive branch.
It would give the governor an agency to develop an executive budget and consolidate a number of administrative functions, including human resources and information technology, and management of the state’s fleet of vehicles. The change would grant the governor far more control over the basic running of state government but it also would make both the governor and the Legislature more accountable for their actions.
Under the bill, legislative committees would be required to conduct routine reviews of the agencies in their jurisdiction. The bill also would restrict agencies from running deficits. The likely result would be a clearer understanding among all legislators of how those agencies function and whether they are doing so effectively.
Proponents of the plan note that, if it had been in place earlier, the hacking scandal at the state Department of Revenue might not have occurred. Currently, oversight and authority over agencies is so decentralized, no one anticipated the possibility that DOR computers would be hacked or recognized the dire need to do something to prevent it.
Sheheen concedes that the bill does not ensure that government suddenly will run smoothly. But, he said, it will help ensure that both the governor and legislators do their jobs – and that they will be held accountable if they don’t.
The Budget and Control Board is an archaic entity designed decades ago to keep the reins of power in the Legislature and prevent the governor from gaining too much control. Replacing the board with a Department of Administration would be a vast improvement, and passage of this bill in the Senate is a big step.
We hope the House will follow suit. The sooner the new system can be put in place, the better.